Monday, October 10, 2011

Is there such a thing as religious humanism?

(This is part 2 in my series exploring “humanism.” Please read my intentions and precautions if you have not already.)

There is such a thing as religious humanism, aka humanism with a theology. Obviously a god that presides over a humanism is one with no authority or power. But, hey, if you believe that “It’s up to us” and you believe in a god, then I am willing to call you a humanist. Religious humanism can be found on the far-liberal spectrum of religion. Unitarian Universalism is an obvious example, but since I am Jewish I will focus on Jewish examples so as not to make a total fool of myself.

Religious humanism can manifest both institutionally and individually. Institutionally, I think that Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism are forms of religious humanism. Mordecai Kaplan’s dictum that Jewish tradition has “a vote, not a veto,” expresses my “up to us” principle. While our tradition (in all its religiosity) certainly can positively influence our beliefs and lifestyles, we refuse to let it hinder the development and expression of progressive values. Of course, the fact that Kaplan’s theology is one of God2 makes this an easy argument— God2 theologies lack a commanding God, and pretty much always affirm the human values of their adherents. Reform Judaism, while upholding a (modified) God1 theology, also ‘smacks’ of humanism to me. Reform Judaism is unapologetic about its rejection of divine law and commandment—and, for me, that goes a long way towards it overlapping with humanism (although, yes, there is much more to humanism than that).

As my account of individual religious humanism is more problematic, in the interest of space I will save it for my next post.

Just to acknowledge my biggest gap here—yes, so far, I am entirely conflating humanism with secularism. I hope you don’t mind—I do not have a robust concept of humanism yet. Also, I think the point that there are religious institutions that form their ethics by secular means (that is, regardless of God’s commands) is important. The presence of a secular meta-ethics within liberal religion is currently my main argument for the existence of religious humanism.

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