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Humanist Essay for February 2014
"Come As You Are"
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[Reprinted from the HSNM February 2014 Newsletter.]

Here is something rather simple that I especially treasure about our humanist community: I feel that in your company I can be myself and say what I think, and I can trust you to do the same. Honesty and trust - it doesn't get much better than that.

When humanists converse among ourselves, our ideas may be accepted, rejected or corrected, but our responses to each other do not come as a judgment from on high or filtered through a set of entrenched expectations. We connect to each other directly. The language we speak is grounded in the everyday and the evident - documented history, verifiable facts, knowledge of natural processes, and the empathy of one confused, imperfect mortal for another.

One need not repeat a series of secret knocks to be admitted to the humanist circle. Arcane initiations are not required. No baptisms, catechisms or professions of allegiance - please! Our values and ethics spring from our awareness that humans, however varied, are more alike than different, and that humanity is inextricably connected to nature. Our shared belief, grounded in experience, is that some things are knowable, and human knowledge serves humanity and the planet better than human ignorance.

Humanist philosophy asserts that people have a natural inclination to fairness and morality. Without the promise of heaven or the threat of hell, we will still strive to behave ethically. Examples of this abound in our humanist communities, where our good works are motivated by sincere respect and regard for each other. In my humanist dream, everyone has a chance to fulfill their own unique potential, so that we may attain a sustainable and peaceful society through embracing diversity and fostering creativity.

Certainly the higher ideals of humankind have not so far been achieved through authoritarian insistence on conformity to an imposed order. To the contrary, attempts to constrain the human imagination and redirect communal energy by brute or psychological force only breed frustration, strife and resistance. All too often, those who are vested with "spiritual" authority are actually engaged in reining in the vitality of the human spirit.

What I have observed of religious belief, practice, and community is that there is always a point at which one is asked to repress one's own (choose all that apply): instincts, individuality, opinion, questions, knowledge, direct experience, desire. Apparently piety can only be measured in terms of the difficulty of overcoming a natural or automatic inclination. Thus we are presented with a series of tests in which the object of the game is actually to be not oneself but a magically better being for having suppressed personal perspective and submitted to the group myth. Attempts to draw back the curtain, assertive skepticism, any perceived subversion of traditional practice are threatening and unwelcome. In other words, "faking it" is rewarded, or at least smoothes the way, whereas honesty becomes problematic.

I did not realize, until I had spent some time in the humanist community, how often I censored myself, even in conversation with good friends. Smile and nod, smile and nod... I'd never dare to challenge someone's taste, and certainly not their beliefs. But why should I not express my own? Thanks to our freethought community, I do express my thoughts more freely. It's not so much a matter of being more courageous as simply being more in practice.

It is important to have an intellectual home, a setting in which to fully and freely exercise our minds. Our humanist societies have had no trouble filling this need. But humanism encompasses every aspect of human existence, and our organizations face many challenges when it comes to addressing the emotional and practical needs of our members. The question arises: Can we provide a home for the heart as well? Please join us for an extended February Speaker Meeting on building humanist community.

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Copyright © 2014 Zelda Gatuskin

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