- Written by Geraldine Bridges
The following thoughts are from our member Hyrum H. Huskey Jr.
It’s mind-boggling to me. These last few months of the ascendancy of our latest President will surely be referred to by future historians as “The Time of Trump”. Life goes on amid disbelief, chaos, inconceivable Cabinet appointments, attacks on the press, and overreactions by the President. But, the President is, well, different.
What is a Humanist to do when our government itself falls under suspicion and appears so in disarray? Foreign governments are experiencing diplomatic confusion which risks our security by an inappropriate reaction. Spiteful and bigoted changes in our immigration policies without legislative support; throwing monkey wrenches into the international progressive actions for climate change remediation; and the new rise in domestic hate crimes are the news items of our day. How do we cope with this onslaught? What does a belief in the tenets of Humanism do for us when we face a daily stream of Executive Orders, and Congressional inaction, that take dead-aim on the destruction of decades of work and diplomatic progress? Progress won in combating climate change, providing health care and civil rights at home, and addressing—even in meager fashion—the needs of other citizens of the world?
It is like traveling behind a truck fully-loaded with trash on a windy day. Litter keeps hitting you at eye level, but you can neither dodge nor duck. The psychic impact is sudden and frightful, but control of it cannot be immediately gained. The overall effect of our national government seems nothing short of such madness in the political fast lane.
Humanism to the rescue
I propose that we take a logical step back to pause and re-examine some basic beliefs of Humanism. We have not lost our core values and principles. We just need to reinsert them into our thinking about how to resist the ideological horrors antithetical to our best ideals. We believe in the ideas of civility, the progress of human rights, the use of science in guiding our lives and the roles we play in the correct use of natural resources. As Humanists, we need--- perhaps now more than ever---to use our foundation in Humanism to confront misguided authoritarianism.
In fewer words, how can we use our ideological belief system to, in the words of film maker Michael Moore, “Fight, Resist, Persist”?
We believe in reason, informed by science.
When our government abuses scientific evidence in regulating and adopting practices that harm us, we have a duty of “people power” to fight, resist, and persist against such policies. It is our civic responsibility to speak up and act out in demonstrably informative ways.
We believe in compassion and the dignity of human beings.
Such a belief goes hand-in-hand with justice and social equality, with supporting liberty, and the rule of law as it is applied to all.
It may appear overwhelming, even futile, to fight again for the common good in so many areas. Some of us have already seen this movie. How many times, we think, must we re-witness the destruction of diversity and civil liberties established in a long line of judicial decisions? Decisions that have made our country a world refuge and a world leader. How many times must we regress to the ideas already discredited by history, by progress, by reason, and by science?
History reveals its most basic truths in the retelling. It takes humankind a long time to “get it.” The path of rule by authoritarian ideology, has repeatedly led to periods of power over diplomacy, with science and reason discarded for the acquisition of territory or natural resources. Authoritarian ideals in governance also leads to ideological oppression, and an incredible tendency for violence over non-violence. A visible lack of human compassion has historically marked the evolution of this style of governance. Yet, these authoritarian directions have repeatedly been struck down by persistent resistance, century after century,
We believe in social and planetary responsibility.
Humanists believe that the goals of life, and the pursuit of liberty and happiness, are motivated by interest in the lives of humans and our planetary existence. These motivations are as common to everyone as they are necessary to any one person.
Bullies find authoritarian rule appealing. It fits their personality traits: ego enhancement, laws by fiat, and non-questioning loyalty. Bullies love to make a show of everything they do as “super”. They are averse to facts or reason, and to opposition. If resistance appears too strong, the bully will retreat to distraction, blame others, or lie in an attempt to get out of a fight. They are big on bragging and bravado, less large in bravery and principled actions.
So, we must fight. Non-violently fight with our mass, our education, our reason, our science; bolstered by the persistence of humans to actively resist. Over the longer arc of time the basic values of Humanism always result in further progress toward the true essence of humanity.
We believe that humans must take responsibility for their own destiny.
Resistance must be designed to out-shine the opposition’s show of authority and unstoppable force. Bullies put on a one-ring show? We must produce a three-ring show. Bullies put out propaganda? We must support a free and fully independent press. Bullies try to cover their acts and embarrassing history? Investigative journalism, and wide-spread education, as means to “connect the dots” must shine a spotlight in the dark places. We must keep a firm pressure on our legislative representatives to “be us” and to do the right thing.
Active resistance is really a Hu-u-u-g-e show of messy democracy: too big, and too strong, too reasoned, and in too many places, to be ignored. While non-violent, it may (and probably should) disrupt everyday routine and convenience. It stands up to unlawful force, counters economic exploitation, attracts the masses in support of the common good, and it comes at its target from every direction. Mass hits home like a sledge hammer.
Think Gandhi. Think Martin Luther King. Think of Million Person Marches. Think of Humanist philosophy and principles. Resist in ways both small and large. Resist in whatever ways you can, based on your age, skills, stamina, or economic capabilities. It is okay to be out front, or performing some needed role behind the public stage. If you can’t hit the streets, make signs, telephone your representatives, make monetary donations, and sign petitions. Talk to your family, neighbors, and others with whom you may disagree on some political issues. Listen to them and seek common ground in those ideas you both believe. Rally around whatever amount of universal goodness you find in the heart of any person. You may not like the President, his advisors, or some of the folks who supported him. Yet, they too, have what they believe are good reasons for their actions. It is not okay to be elitist or missing in action when totalitarianism needs to be countered. Resist tactically in whatever way you are able.
Don’t despair the long road home.
Persistence is difficult for many of us. We tend to have short attention spans. We resist changing our routines for an extended period of time. We like to explain how we are just “too busy for that today.” For example, as a self-identified freelance writer, I find many reasons to be too busy to sit my butt in front of my computer for a few hours each day. I can easily procrastinate and find excuses for not doing even what I like to do!
I suspect Humanists are as vulnerable to convenient excuses as anyone else. Still, we could do something, sometime, to bolster the general resistance. We could, in both individual and collective ways, be more persistent in keeping up the good fight to support Humanism in reacting to “The Time of Trump.”
Already, the new President, has suffered a number of rebuffs in trying to implement his executive actions and legislative initiatives. He is beginning to learn why we have three branches of government. He will experience more defeats because principled people across the nation---of all political persuasions---will fight, resist, and persist, against oppression and a lack of compassion. At the heart of our society, at the roots of our culture, we are all “humanists.”
Those of us, who publicly identify as big “H” Humanists, have special responsibilities to demonstrate our beliefs and our principled base philosophy. We don’t need to personally denigrate anyone to follow our principles. People change. There were a lot of people who do not now like the actions the administration is taking. The President is certainly not the first Pied Piper of history, nor the last. Our newest President, and his chosen advisors, are generally ill-equipped for government “by and for the people”, and will be found wanting in their ability to counter the hearts and minds of the best in our society.
The power of freethinkers, and the human heart, is rising up once again to right the course of history until reason and science, and the common good of all, can catch up to humanity’s political foibles.
- Hyrum H. Huskey Jr.
- Written by Geraldine Bridges
Sometimes I think it is easy to forget why the basic principle of separation of church and state is so important. This shocking article was in the online publication TheHumanist.org (Link to website and article)
In 2012 amateur historian Catherine Corless began investigating the abandoned Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. Disconcerted by the lack of media attention given to her finding that 796 babies had died there in the span of thirty-six years, Corless began the painstaking journey to discover the truth of what happened under the eyes of the Bon Secours nuns. Her work led to the creation of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which has come under increased scrutiny in the past weeks with the discovery of what’s been reported as “significant quantities of human remains” buried in septic tanks on the grounds of the home for unwed mothers and their children operated by Catholic nuns from 1922 to 1961. Despite the fact that the Irish government has held the outrageously high death registers of the home since 2011, the excavation process was only begun by the Commission of Investigation in November of last year, leaving many stakeholders wondering: Why this inhumane delay in justice?
In the official statement from the Commission of Investigation, its members stated that they were “shocked by this discovery” and that they are “continuing [the] investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.” For those who lived and labored in the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, this response is wholly inadequate. The commission, which is investigating a scant fourteen such homes out of the nearly 180 institutions in Ireland involved with unmarried mothers and their children, appears to think the question of who did this to these individuals is still unanswered. Despite evidence that the death rates of babies were even higher at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork, the state and the commission have repeatedly refused to begin excavations of the property. The commission has also thus far refused to acknowledge the state’s complicity with the Catholic Church in twentieth-century Ireland—complicity that led to the systematic abuse of unmarried mothers and their children.
The exhumations at Tuam have led to an increase in media attention paid to the issue of unmarried mothers and their children, including a focus on the complicity of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Irish government. Despite previous claims that they had no knowledge of the graves, the Bon Secours order of nuns have made no comment about the findings of the Commission of Investigation. It is unlikely that members of any religious order will face prosecution for the crimes committed at Tuam and other similar homes due to a provision in section 19 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which stipulates that ”statements or documents given to the commission are inadmissible as evidence against a person in any criminal or other proceedings.” In other words, the religious orders are protected from investigation; survivors must make the choice of giving evidence to the Commission of Investigation and having it sealed forever, or withholding experiential evidence in the hopes that it will lead to an eventual prosecution.
While there are many different pathways that can be taken in the aftermath of Tuam, many Irish citizens are hoping that the state finally takes a long, hard look at the “special relationship” that exists with the Catholic Church. The Irish government must fully accept the role that they played in the forced institutionalization of unmarried mothers and their children for the majority of the twentieth century. The Irish government has been complicit in church dealings since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, when girls deemed “indecent” by the church were sent to Magdalene Laundries, to today, when ten women a day are forced to travel to the United Kingdom to access abortion services. A full 97 percent of state-funded primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, allowing the government to save money on education while remaining cozy with an institution it has been colluding with for decades.
On March 9, 2017, the Social Democrats party called for a complete separation of church and state in Ireland, using the Tuam discovery as the impetus for their announcement. “We have got to take the church from our schools, from our hospitals and medical care, and from our politics,” said the joint-leader of the Social Democrats Catherine Murphy. “If Tuam has shown us anything, it is that the state must take responsibility for its citizens and that the church has no legitimacy in the healthcare, education, or politics governing our citizens.”
It remains to be seen whether or not any real change in the church-state relationship will come from the revelations at Tuam. The presence of the Catholic Church is still prominent in many state activities. The Irish parliament, known as Dáil Eireann, starts each day’s proceedings with a prayer. The Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth Amendment, which is examining what should, if anything, be changed about the law, recently invited the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference and the Iona Institute, a Catholic anti-choice and anti-marriage equality think tank, to give their opinions on the reproductive rights of women in Ireland. However, the citizens of Ireland are not prepared to allow the state to simply brush the horrors of the Mother and Baby Homes under the rug in order to preserve their relationship with the church. At this point, it is imperative that national and international media attention remains focused on the Irish government’s refusal to accept their involvement in the systematic institutionalization of unmarried, sexually active women, and unwed mothers and their children throughout the twentieth century, in the hopes that pressure might lead to a complete separation of church and state in modern Ireland.
Julia Canney is a graduate student at University College Dublin. During her time as an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary, she worked extensively with survivors of sexual assault, further working to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland, which bans abortion.
- Written by Geraldine Bridges
- Written by Chuck Collazzi
It was gratifying to see Professor Lipman’s essay, particularly his comments on “Good Without A God”, a phrase which appears to be a revision to Good Without God, to which I previously objected. I was unaware that the original phrase had been improved in this way.I had been hoping that others might continue the discussion and to have someone of Mel’s stature in the freethinking community weighing in is a real plus.
The addition of the indefinite article, “a”, completely changes the meaning from a reference specific to a monotheistic entity to an indeterminate, amorphous concept. In my experience, when questioned about monotheism vs. God’s admission in Genesis that “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me” Christians don’t agree that this means that their Almighty was a polytheist; they offer a feeble exigesis: it means that anything we care about excessively (money, sex, liquor, and other desirable objectives of life) can become a “god” to us, or replace the real god in favor of something worldly (meaning just about everything else). The revision eliminates completely the primacy of any one object or deity over another.
The power of words is evident in our daily lives, and are often more so the more terse the statement. This becomes apparent in slogans, sound-bites, and the like. And I agree that a few well-chosen words cannot often convince anyone to abandon life-long superstition; that’s an awful lot to expect from a few words, no matter how pungent. The most that might be accomplished is to stimulate critical re-thinking of beliefs in one individual at a time.
Although Mel and I agree on Good Without A God, he brings up some other points that I believe are important to discuss. I’m hoping these can be addressed in subsequent essays by ourselves and others. And as we approach the national elections in November, it’s likely that additional issues important to us will surface. Many of the candidates are climbing over each other pretending to be more pious than the others; that is, I hope they’re pretending. If they aren’t, we need to be ready.