On My Mixed Beliefs – Part II – Humanism

In part one of this series, I talked about how my long time exposure the traditions of Quakerism shaped my quasi-religious beliefs. Their tenets of nonviolence, belief in shared divinity, and respect for individual rights and opinions have all had a profound impact on my views. However, it would be too simple to say that my beliefs start and end there.

I am also a firm believer in at least some of the ideas of humanism. From the link:

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).

The more I read and learn, the more I am amazed by what we have accomplished as a society. We live in a time of remarkable progress, where technology advances at an astounding pace. Here’s a very clear example. Just before I was born, the Apple II+ computer came out in June of 1979. For the low price of $1,195 (around $3,800 in today’s dollars), you got up to 64kb of memory, a CPU capable of up to 2MHz, and 5.25 inch floppy disks as the main storage medium. By the time I graduated high school in 1999, you could purchase a computer with a processor 200-300 times more powerful for less than half that original price (for reference, this is the iMac G3, which retailed for $1,299 (around $1,800 adjusted to today’s dollar value).

Even outside of technology, progress has been amazing. Even though it seems every day we hear about war, famine, or some other tragedy, the data simply doesn’t support the narrative that the world is falling apart. Quite the opposite in fact! Here’s some examples that turned my head:

-The mortality rate of children under age 5 has dropped from around 160 per 1,000 in 1960 to 36.25 in 2012.
-Between 1990 and 2012, the percentage of people in Africa who had access to improved water sources increased from 58% to almost 90%.

I could go on and on about this. It’s utterly fascinating to see just how far we have come, and equally frustrating for me to hear doomsday prophets or those clamoring for a return to “simpler times”. I don’t know about you, but I rather like that I don’t have to spend hours and hours each day in the sun, doing backbreaking manual labor, all for the sake of getting minimal nutritional needs. And let’s not forget that modern marvel, the washing machine!

Some might say that my humanistic beliefs inherently clash with my spiritual beliefs, but to me this makes no sense. Just because I believe in the utility of human beings doesn’t mean that I cannot also believe in a greater power. Why can’t the marvel of human progress co-exist with the experience and faith in the divine? Must things be so black and white? Why could we not believe that God set things in motion, then stood back and allowed His creation to develop largely on its own agency, perhaps with some tweaks here and there? Would not God make human beings capable of wonderful things on their own accord?

I think it will take another post to fully explore just how I believe that the staunch rationalism and empiricism of humanism can live peaceably with faith, but for now, it’s sufficient to say I see no reason why I cannot take from both. Perhaps this is just another example of how I try to be a pragmatist at heart, and reject dogmatic ideals for flexible and open-minded thinking. Then again, I always say I’m as much of a biased moron as anyone else, but perhaps I’m just a little more aware of it.

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