August and Everything After

Hopefully after next week I’ll be able to write more openly on the blog about who I am/why I’m writing/what I’m doing. (Thus, the title of this post.)

Aside from the chaos of ordinary life (and, let’s be clear, it is chaotic right now), I’ve spent some time thinking more about the balance among the secular, humanist, and Jewish pieces of things. And while I recognize the importance of reason, observation, fact, etc., in the mix–I don’t think you arrive at the positions I’ve arrived at without these–I continue to be concerned that the secular and humanist portions of things are, to be blunt, off-putting to outsiders.

This isn’t to say that I reject the principles; rather, we need to do better at the branding of things if we want to be truly attractive to those outside our community. The problem we face by emphasizing reason, fact, observation, science, etc., is that we make humanism too hard, and that risks losing people who would at least be allies.

It’s difficult to be humanist as humanism is presented and as it exists. I think Epstein backs into this insight in Good Without God when he discusses what he expected to find as opposed to what he actually did find when he traveled in Taiwan and China, namely, that people who were ostensibly Buddhist were not actually focused on the formal teachings of Buddhism as we learn them in religious studies classes. It’s not that those individuals didn’t self-identify as Buddhist, at least in a nominal way–it’s just that they lived differently, secularly.

Circling back to humanist Judaism, I wonder if we face a problem that might, in some ways, be similar to that faced by Reform Judaism in the early- and mid-1900s.  As envisioned, Reform Judaism was difficult in the sense that its leaders and its early adherents were often Jewishly well educated and knew, often intimately, what they were rejecting. Later generations did not.

If history is repeatable here–and that’s not necessarily a given–my concern is that humanist Judaism might be “too hard” for many people unless we can moderate the need for the level of education required to sustain things. At the same time, the difficulty associated with humanist Judaism might be a deterrent to new members because while humanist Judaism’s approach to matters of observance quite nicely comports with how most modern Jews live their lives, the intellectual demands may not play so well, and the humanistic emphasis on reason, etc., may heighten this difficulty.

I have no solution to this problem, if it exists; just another thing for me to think about in August–and after.

2 thoughts on “August and Everything After

  1. I was very surprised to learn that in the actual definition of Humanism (as defined by the AHA), it says “…informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion.” It seems like the inspired by art and compassion parts of it are lost in the message and reason completely and totally BECOMES the message. This is where humanism is going to lose people. It becomes less of a guiding principle on how to live your life compassionately, free of the constraints of theism, and more a religion set aside for scientists and philosophers, which frankly, not all of us are.

    • That’s part of the problem I’m thinking of here. I think it’s far too easy to fall into this trap, particularly with humanism in isolation from other religious and cultural traditions.

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