22 Humanism

CHAPTER 22

Humanism

Identification of the moral objective as the development of the ethical aspect of human personalities, and of the individual’s primary responsibility as the maximization of his contribution toward that end, carries with it the corollary that there is also an obligation to encourage and promote the ethical development of others. This can be accomplished in part by personal influence and example, but the achievement of maximum results also requires the utilization of those agencies that are available to society in general. At present there are no agencies aimed specifically at this objective, but there are many that contribute, in some degree, toward progress in this direction. One of the essential tasks of these agencies, and the associated educational institutions, is to clarify the application of the moral code to the complex situations of modern life, which are beyond the scope of the simple ethical intuitions of the ordinary individual, and to disseminate this information. This is a function of philosophy and, at least potentially, of science. Another essential is to promote compliance with the code. This is a function of religion.

Because of the metaphysical origin of the code, the impact of science, which denies metaphysical existence, has heretofore been negative. The purely mechanistic view of life that has dominated scientific thinking not only fails to produce any positive reasons for moral conduct, but lends strong support to those who regard morality as an unnecessary restriction on human behavior. Many individual scientists disagree with this view, but they do so on religious or philosophical grounds, not on scientific grounds. Philosophy, which is ambivalent toward metaphysics, is likewise uncertain about the true status of the moral code. Only religion, which is definitely metaphysical, has hitherto stood foursquare for morality. Thus, the attitude of these three divisions of human knowledge toward recognition of and compliance with the moral code has been specifically correlated with their respective attitudes toward metaphysical existence. This emphasizes the significance of the findings of this present work with respect to such existence and its relation to human life.

In the preceding pages, we have applied inductive processes, chiefly extrapolation and analogy, to a consideration of the possibility of existence outside (independent of) the physical universe, the universe of space and time, and we have arrived at conclusions as to the reality of that existence and as to some of its characteristics. These conclusions have then been verified by the standard scientific procedure of developing their consequences in many different areas and subjecting these consequences to the test of comparison with the facts of observation. The reality of metaphysical existence is now scientific knowledge; that is, such existence is physically certain.

This scientifically confirmed finding is in agreement with the preponderance of human belief in all parts of the known world and throughout recorded history. But it has heretofore been unacceptable to science because of the lack of the kind of confirmation that this present work has now supplied, and a number of schools of philosophy have been sufficiently influenced by the negative attitude of the scientific community to base their philosophical beliefs on the assumption that the space-time universe is the whole of existence. Collectively, such philosophical systems are known as humanism. Inasmuch as the central theme of humanism is a negation of the metaphysical existence that we have now established as certain—“rejection of the supernatural world view,” says Paul Kurtz, editor of the Humanist, is the “first humanist principle”344—it will be appropriate to begin our survey of the agencies of society that deal with morality by examining the humanist position in the light of our new findings.

The proponents of humanism have thus far devoted their attention primarily to attacking organized religion, and their basic theme has been the assertion that religion is indifferent, or at least not sufficiently sensitive, to the human condition. The transcendental religions have been criticized especially for their policy of emphasizing preparation for the “other world” at the expense of what could be done toward improving existence in this world. Julian Huxley, for example, contrasts this traditional religious outlook with that of humanism:

Humanism also differs from all supernaturalist religions in centering its long-term aims not on the next world but on this. One of its fundamental tenets is that this world and life in it can be improved, and that it is our duty to try to improve it, socially, culturally, and politically.345

This humanistic viewpoint has a strong appeal to many thoughtful individuals, and as a result, it has been gaining ground quite rapidly in recent years, not by any noticeable increase in the number of those who, like Huxley, accept humanism as a substitute for religion, but by an increasingly humanistic attitude on the part of many of the religious organizations that are ostensibly committed to the “other worldly” view that the humanists criticize. This substantial degree of success has brought humanism to what Kurtz calls “a situation of challenge and crisis” because, in their absorption with the attack on their adversaries, the humanists have not developed any clear and consistent positive position of their own. “It is one thing,” cautions Kurtz, “to reject orthodoxy, dogma, and creed as superstitious mythology irrelevant to the contemporary world; however, it is quite another thing to suggest in positive terms what humanism can offer in their place.”344 The facts that have been developed in the preceding pages now give us a basis from which we can appraise the humanists’ prospects for success in formulating such a positive program.

Insofar as the humanistic goal may be to discredit religion in its entirety, our findings show that it is doomed to failure, as we have definitely confirmed the essential elements of religious belief. Our results do support the humanists’ contention that much of the detailed structure of religious doctrine is “superstitious mythology,” and we can endorse their efforts to the extent that they are directed at purging religion of these encumbrances. But whatever success they may have in this undertaking will not shake the foundations of religion. On the contrary, it will merely bring the weakness of the humanists’ own position more clearly into focus.

Again quoting from Paul Kurtz’ introduction to Moral Problems in Contemporary Society, “the humanist does not exclude a transcendental reality on a priori grounds.” He “does not callously dismiss the reports of mystical or revelatory experiences. But he looks upon these reports as events to be explained and interpreted in natural terms,”346 and he contends that there is no adequate evidence of metaphysical existence. In other words, he asks that religious faith be replaced by faith in the tenets of humanism. Of course, the findings of the present work completely demolish this position, but even without the new knowledge, the humanist has no support for it other than his belief that a physical explanation will some day be found for the seemingly non-physical aspects of human existence. This tenuous hope is all that he has to offer as a substitute for the religious explanation that he contends is not adequately supported.

There is considerable diversity in the humanistic outlook, as in most philosophical positions, but the central proposition by which it is distinguished is the rejection of the metaphysical. (The term “supernatural” is generally used in humanist discourse, but in the light of our findings, metaphysical existence is another manifestation of nature; it is not supernatural.) It follows, on this basis, that all knowledge of the world, including knowledge of human life, must be derived from experience. This is the conventional scientific, or empiricist, view, and in general terms, it can be said that humanism is a philosophical application of conventional scientific thought. The work of Sigmund Freud, which extended the scope of science into areas that had previously been the undisputed provinces of philosophy and religion, was quite influential in the spread of humanism. Freud saw religion as a historical development—“the heritage of many generations”:

This stock of religious ideas is generally offered as a divine revelation. But that is in itself a part of the religious system, and entirely leaves out of account the known historical development of these ideas and their variation in different ages and cultures.347

What Freud himself failed to take into account is that the gradual development of religious ideas over a long period of history has no implications as to the means by which the advances were made. A cumulative series of revelations and other intuitive events leading ultimately to the doctrines of one of the modern religions is just as logical a development as the cumulative series of “flashes of insight” that culminated in one of the modern physical theories. A similar criticism can be made of his assertion that religious beliefs “are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind.”348 The fact that most human beings would prefer that their religious beliefs be valid is not inconsistent with their validity. Actually, Freud conceded this point. He says, referring to religious doctrines, “just as they cannot be proved, neither can they be refuted,”349 and he explains that, in calling religious ideas “illusions,” he is not implying that they are necessarily wrong, merely that “wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in their motivation”:

When I say that they [religious ideas] are illusions, I must define the meaning of the word. An illusion is not the same as an error, it is indeed not necessarily an error.350

This admission that the religious assertions may be valid, notwithstanding all that he has said against them, is only one of a number of items which indicate that, even though he took a firm anti-religious position in public, Freud was never fully able to convince himself that his position was sound. As one observer remarks, “What is not clear is why he himself as ’a natural atheist’ should have been so deeply and so illuminatingly interested in the psychology of religion.”351 The “great affection” for his own religion that he unintentionally revealed in the dream analyzed in Chapter 16, and his decision to devote most of his time during the closing years of his life to a study of the life of Moses and his influence on the development of religious thought, show that, despite Freud’s commitment to the position now taken by the humanists, there was still an inner core of religious belief which he was unable to suppress.

This should not be surprising. As a conscientious scientist, Freud could not avoid recognizing that there are aspects of human life which, as matters now stand, cannot be derived from experience. This is most clearly visible in the field of ethics. No one has succeeded in finding any empirical basis on which a tenable system of ethics can be based. As pointed out in Chapter 20, attempts to base ethics on happiness or some other experiential objective cannot stand up under critical examination. Even if they were otherwise sound—which they are not—“they all analyze ethical propositions in a way which has reference solely to what is, but what is is very different from what ought to be. And the sharp transition from the is to the ought they in no wise explain.”352 (A. C. Ewing). Those empiricists who follow their line of thought to its logical conclusions concede this point. Ayer, for example, specifically admits that “normative ethical concepts are irreducible to empirical concepts.”353

The inability to provide an empirical basis for ethical judgments pushes the strict empiricist into a corner where he is forced to contend that such judgments have no real significance. They “have no literal meaning”; they merely “serve to express, or arouse, emotion,”354 Ayer asserts. This emotive theory of ethics, as it is called, has gained considerable support because superficially it seems to clear the way for a strictly empirical view of the subject. However, if we look more closely, it is evident that the empiricists have not carried their examination of this subject far enough. They have failed to examine and take into consideration the nature of emotion.

As brought out in Chapter 13, emotion is a process. For example, a message received through the senses indicates the presence of one of a class of situations that experience has indicated to be dangerous. Evolution (a physical process) has conditioned the physical organism to respond to dangerous situations with the emotion of fear, and to respond to fear by flight. Thus, the fear emotion is not something independent of experience. Both the recognition of the dangerous situation and the recognition of flight as the appropriate response are grounded in experience; either the individual’s own experience, the experience of others that has been communicated to him, or the experiences of his ancestors embodied in what we call instinct. The situation in ethics is no different. In the world of the empiricist, where experience is the only source of information, the ethical emotion, if any such thing exists, must be grounded in experience.

Thus, the emotive theory accomplishes nothing. Since ethical principles cannot be obtained directly from experience, the empiricist brands them as emotional. But our analysis of emotions shows that they are simply processes which apply the results of experience to current problems. What the emotive theory is trying to do is to accomplish the impossible by doing it indirectly. Inability to account for the origin of ethical judgments by appeal to experience has simply been succeeded by inability to account for the origin of ethical emotions.

Some of the humanists who recognize the weakness of the emotive theory have endeavored to find a middle ground. Kurtz implies something of the kind in his statement that a transcendental reality is not necessarily excluded from humanist thinking. Herbert Feigl says we have moral “commitments,” or principles, that cannot be derive empirically. “The adoption of those commitments can be made palatable,” he says, “but there is nothing that we can prove or disprove about them.”355 But, in fact, there is no middle ground here. Either there is a non-physical existence or there is not. The denial of any existence beyond the boundaries of the physical universe is the essence of the humanist position, the “first humanist principle.” Any “commitment” not grounded in experience, or any possibility of a “transcendental reality” contradicts that first principle.

The basic humanist position is therefore untenable, even on the basis of the situation that existed before this present work produced a scientific proof of the reality of metaphysical, or transcendental, existence. Regardless of the particular variation of the general humanist position on which the individual philosopher may take his stand, he cannot complete his argument without introducing something that contradicts his basic premise, some “emotion,” “commitment,” or the like, that cannot be derived from that physical experience which, according to his fundamental premise, is the only source from which they could be derived. As Kurtz pointed out in the statement quoted earlier, it is one thing to attack, quite another to construct a defensible position of one’s own. This the humanists have been unable to do, and in the light of the findings of this work, can never do.

This does not mean that the objectives of humanism are to be condemned, nor that its accomplishments have been of no consequence. What it means is that those objectives need to be redefined so that there is a better understanding both of the significance of what has already been done, and as to the direction that future efforts will have to take in order to be effective. Futile attempts to maintain the now untenable position that the universe of space and time is the whole of existence will eventually discredit the whole humanistic enterprise.

The humanistic objectives are generally stated in terms of promoting the “good life” here on earth. “Human happiness and the desire to avoid suffering are central,”356 says Kai Nielsen. “Happiness is good,” and “pointless suffering is bad,” he says. But, as we have seen in the previous discussion, happiness is not good, nor is suffering bad, in the ethical sense. Both are ethically neutral. Happiness is desirable, and suffering is undesirable, but only as a part of the life of man as a biological organism. They have no bearing on the characteristically human aspect of existence, the non-physical aspect. The humanist objective is therefore a secular objective. Nielsen does not deny this, but he talks of a “secular morality.” In the light of our findings, this is a contradiction in terms. Morality has no secular dimension; it belongs to a totally different order of existence.

The foregoing characterization of the humanistic objective as secular is not pejorative; it is simply descriptive. But it means that humanism is not, as it purports to be, at odds with the transcendental religions. The essentials of religion, we find, are metaphysical, as most religions have always claimed. A purely secular system of thought, one which has been deliberately confined within the boundaries of the physical universe, for whatever reason, therefore has no relevance to religious essentials. The accomplishments of humanism in the increasingly successful attack on the “superstitious mythology” of the organized religions have not affected the religious base in the least. On the contrary, they should be beneficial to religion, as this is the kind of a purging of the non-religious accretions from the fundamental religious principles that is needed in order to restore the credibility of the religious fundamentals in the eyes of those whose faith has been shaken by the continued retreat of the ecclesiastics when challenged by scientific discovery.

Humanism has found strong support for its criticism of the tendency of organized religions to emphasize preparation for the “other world” at the expense of human happiness in this one. But our analysis shows no reason why religion should see a conflict between the two. We find no factual support for asceticism, the “joyless ethic,” or any of the other doctrines of this kind to which the humanists object. Indeed, as pointed out in Chapter 21, our findings lead to the conclusion that the moral code requires the human individual to lead a pleasant, comfortable, and untroubled life, to the extent that his circumstances permit, and requires him to assist others to do likewise, so far as this can be done without undue impairment of his own situation.

According to Lamont, “Humanism is the viewpoint that men have but one life to lead and should make the most of it in terms of creative work and happiness.”357 Our findings are that man should, indeed, make the most of his human life, but not because it is the only one that he will lead. We find that he should do so because he is here for a purpose, and making the most of his human life is essential to the accomplishment of that purpose. The development of the ethical personality that is the objective of human existence must take place in human life. One must learn to be honest, to be kind, to be tolerant, to be just, to be compassionate, and so on, in this human existence. There is no magic formula by which all this can be achieved suddenly at the end of that existence, nor do we find any support for the contention of some religions that there is a kind of all-purpose prescription, some kind of overall harmony with metaphysical existence, that can be conferred by decree and can serve as a substitute for the detailed ethical development.

There is no subordination of human life to “other worldly” objectives in this picture that emerges from our analysis. The ultimate goal is defined in metaphysical terms, to be sure, but the road to that goal lies entirely in human life. Furthermore, that ultimate goal is not in any way antagonistic to the humanistic objective of the “good life.” On the contrary, nothing is more likely to improve the rate of progress toward that “good life” than an increase in the number of individuals who want to do that which is morally right.

It is quite evident from the arguments put forth by the humanists in support of their contentions that they are motivated to a considerable degree by what we may call pride, or less charitably, vanity. Those human individuals who realize that their knowledge is limited are usually prepared to accept the assertion that they need the help of superhuman forces to meet their most serious problems, but those who have reason to believe that they are well-grounded in the current wisdom of the human race have a tendency to resent such a suggestion. It is disturbing to them to be told that they are, in effect, second class citizens, that there is a superior order of existence, and that the primary objective of human life is not to savor that life to the utmost, but to make some advance toward the superior status. They are particularly upset by the idea that one or more of the superior existences may be in a position to dictate the terms of human life.

Erich Fromm, for instance, objects to “authoritarian religions” on the ground that they require “surrender to a power transcending man.” He is particularly critical of the idea that this higher power “has a right to force man to worship him.”358 He is not ready to dispense entirely with the concept of religion, but he wants to give it a humanistic character. Fromm’s conception of a humanistic religion is one “centered around man and his strength.” Where such a religion uses the term “God,” he says, it is only “a symbol of man’s own powers.”359

Strangely enough, this vainglorious attitude coexists with an unusually keen realization of the wide margin by which the human race is currently failing to attain its full potential. Indeed, much of the driving power behind the humanistic movement stems from a recognition of the immensity of the task involved in reaching that goal, and the necessity of greater and more systematic efforts toward improvement if the goal is ever to be reached. Those who measure the magnitude of the task against the current rate of progress are often discouraged, and pessimism, explicit or implicit, is one of the problems of the humanist movement. “They [the humanists] accept the fact that human existence is probably a random occurrence between two oblivions, that death is inevitable, that there is a tragic aspect to our lives.”360 (Paul Kurtz) This can hardly be described as a cheerful outlook, and it has little appeal to the common man.

Now that a scientific study has established with physical certainty (the only kind of certainty that can be attained about anything real) that there is another order of existence, considerations of human pride, or vanity, no longer have any significance. But for what consolation it may be to those who find a subordinate position hard to accept, it may be noted that the uniquely human aspect of our personalities, the characteristic in which we differ from other animals, is non-physical. To the extent that we have developed this distinctive attribute, therefore, we are participants in the superior type of existence. Our status is not second class; rather we are neophytes who have the opportunity to acquire full first-class status in due course. Man does, in fact, have all of the powers he needs, if he develops his potential to the utmost. But the most significant of these are powers which he possesses by virtue of having an aspect of his personality that is independent of the physical universe, and is in touch with other such independent existences, some of which are more fully developed and are capable of providing him with advice and assistance. This is essentially the position of the transcendental religions.

Whether we are, in fact, subject to the authority of a Deity, as most religions contend, and humanism finds objectionable, is outside the scope of this work. The investigation has not been carried far enough to shed any light on this central religious issue. Nor is it yet clear whether there is any basis from which an inquiry into the subject could be pursued. The answer would have to come from a revelatory or intuitive source, and, as matters now stand, the purported revelations in this area are so numerous and so mutually contradictory that they provide nothing definite.

Many readers will no doubt feel that lack of an answer to this fundamental question leaves the development of thought in these pages incomplete. It is therefore appropriate to reiterate that this present work is a report of the results of a pioneer scientific exploration of a field that has hitherto been outside the boundaries of science. As such, it cannot be expected to arrive at anything complete and conclusive. Its aim is to get a broad, general view of the heretofore unexplored sector of existence independent of the universe of space and time, to lay the foundation for additional explorations in the future, and to identify some of the means by which such explorations can be carried out.

In the light of what has been established by this investigation, the suggestion by Kurtz that humanism should now proceed to formulate “in positive terms” what it can offer in place of the religious rites and dogma that the humanists reject is impractical. The “superstitious mythology” to which they are so strongly opposed is superfluous, and there is no need to replace it with anything else. The essential elements of religion are metaphysical, and cannot be replaced by any humanistic system of thought, as humanism is now understood. It would appear, therefore, that there are two choices confronting the movement. Humanism can continue, as Kurtz admits it has been thus far, primarily as an instrument of attack on the inconsistencies and incongruities of organized religion. Or it can face the fact that it is a secular philosophy, that its real purpose is to define and promote that which is desirable socially, economically, politically, and elsewhere in secular life, and that it has no relevance—at least no direct relevance—to what is right or good from the moral standpoint.

Humanism is in no sense a substitute for religion, if religion is to be understood in the way in which the term is used by the organized religions and in this present work. It is a difficult concept to define, but Paul Tillich defines it in a manner acceptable to a large segment of the religious community in these words:

Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of our life.361

Tillich classifies all “isms,” such as humanism, that are “based on secularism” as quasi-religions, and he regards the “attack of the quasi-religions on the religions proper” as the most significant feature of the present-day religious scene. “Today the problems which have arisen out of this situation can no longer be neglected,”362 he asserts. The particular aspect of these problems that is brought into focus by the findings of this work is the manner in which the substitution of secular objectives for the genuinely religious objectives impedes the progress of the human race toward the ultimate objective of its existence. This point will be discussed in detail in Chapter 28. At this time, we will want to take note of the fact that there is also an inverse side to this picture. Indiscriminate mixing of religious and secular objectives is detrimental not only to religion but to secular life as well.

When a religious organization takes a stand on any issue, it automatically stamps that position, whatever it may be, as morally right. Religion is devoted to upholding the right and combating the wrong. It follows, so the reasoning goes (in defiance of the rules of logic) that whatever a religious organization supports is right, and those in opposition are either ignorant or in league with the forces of unrighteousness. But in reality, a large and growing number of the issues on which present-day religious organizations are taking sides and working energetically in the ensuing conflicts, are secular issues.

Even if some of these issues—social, political, economic, etc.—are actually susceptible to being decided on their merits (which is not always the case), the decision can be based only on whether they are desirable, not whether they are morally right. And in practice, there is seldom a clear-cut criterion of desirability that can be applied. These non-religious issues are almost invariably struggles for comparative advantage, questions as to who should get what. The gains that are made by some individuals as a result of the final decision, the gains that loom so large to the churches when they take up the battle positions, are made at the expense of others. As expressed by William Hordern, “Every social reform is ambiguous. It appears more just to those who profit from it than it does to those who do not.”363

Furthermore, the ultimate gainers or losers are not always, or even usually, clearly indicated. For example, the issue in a labor dispute is ostensibly between the interests of the employer and those of the employees, in the usual case. However, these appearances are deceptive. The employers directly affected may sustain losses as a result of the outcome of such a dispute, but this weakens their competitive positions and allows their competitors to make corresponding gains. Seldom, if ever, do employers as a whole bear the burden of a wage increase or other added item of expense resulting from the settlement. The operation of economic forces permits—indeed, it requires—them to transfer the cost burden to the general public; that is, to all workers. The church or other religious organization that supports the labor union in the controversy (as the churches generally do) is therefore doing nothing but assisting one group of workers to gain an economic advantage at the expense of another group of workers. The justification for treating this as a “moral issue” is not apparent, to say the least.

It is true that, in many instances of this nature, the religious organizations do not understand the real points at issue, and are acting on the basis of emotion without realizing the full implications of what they are doing. But this does not excuse the actions; it merely emphasizes the point that active participation by religious organizations in non-religious controversies is not conducive to equitable settlement of the issues. Unfortunately, religious organizations are, by their very nature, incapable of the kind of an approach to the subject matter that is required in these secular areas. Because religion deals with moral issues, in which there is a definite separation between right and wrong, the religious authorities are predisposed to view other issues in the same light; to see them as either black or white, so to speak. But secular issues do not usually come in black and white; they come in various shades of gray, and an uncompromising attitude which insists on branding all opposition as evil and immoral can do nothing but impede or prevent progress toward a just resolution of the points at issue.

There is a definite place in the secular field for humanism and for organizations with humanistic objectives. But mixing secular and religious objectives is detrimental to both, and the churches that are now devoting practically their entire effort to the objectives of humanism should recognize that they are no longer religious institutions. It is time that they “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

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