Monday, March 14, 2005

Good essay from Mr. Dumpling

Every great movement forward of humanity has ended up a failure, perverted into something that makes a mockery of its original good intentions. I can point out case after case like the French Revolution where the noble intentions of liberty, fraternity and equality led to the Reign of Terror and ultimately Napoleon’s imperial madness. The idealistic Revolution in Russia that was founded on principles that were claimed would make all men equal, but resulted in 80 years of repression and butcheries on an unprecedented scale. The list goes on.

From a worthwhile essay by Dave Goodman, reflecting on the emptiness of a Humanist point of view. At the end of the day (every day, it seems), we have to look outside ourselves, both individually and collectively, for redemption, because...Humanism’s greatest lie, and most dangerous claim, that humanity can make it on its own. Not only does this choke humanity’s progress by perpetuating its rebellious and self destructive behaviour, it only leads to despair.

Nothing new here, but it needs to be renewed in each of us from time to time. After seeing Hamlet for the third or fourth time, realizing how much I had missed the other times I had seen it, and how much more discerning I had become in the intervening years, I came to the conclusion that one should make it a point to see Hamlet about every four or five years, just to keep the juices of self-improvement flowing.

I haven't done that, but it makes the point. No matter how much we think we are growing, it is beneficial to return to basics, if for no other reason than to keep us focused. I think that as we age a kind of Humanistic thought process can invade our subconscious.

Not exactly on topic, but related, I recall something from over forty years ago said by a minister to a young political activist. The turbulent beginnings of the sixties were a lot more disorganized than television would lead one to believe. What is now seen as a handful of fairly coherent, if controversial ideas was at the time unbelievably fragmented. The times were a perfect example of the saying that "life, which has to be lived forward, can only be understood backward."

A.J. Muste is a name now forgotten, but he was one of the old-time stars in the constellation of Christian pacifists. It was my privilege to be able to meet and interact briefly with him for a day or two. I recall an exchange he had with a fellow writing a radical column in the university student newspaper. The writer was at the time a doctrinaire Marxist, not particularly active in the streets, but very articulate and outspoken in print. He advanced the Socialist point of view every chance he got, and was arguing with Rev. Muste about civil rights for black people. (It was considered rude to say "black" back then. We used the word "Negroes," much more respectful but later declared to be politically incorrect.)

Muste drove home the point, and would not budge, that all the important thinkers and leaders of the movement had understood that they could not operate on their own. All of them, he contended, knew that there was a force outside of themselves that was important to their missions. None of them, including Ghandi, felt that they were able, on their own, to succeed in their calling.

The two, the minister and the Communist, had to agree to disagree. The writer/philosopher was as adamant in his argument as was A.J.Muste. For me, a kid looking on, it was an early lesson in faith. It seemed to me that both of these people were driven by faith, but only one of them was able to say so out loud. Despite the fact that he already held an unpopular minority view, despite the clear need to recruit even infidels to his cause, Muste risked alienating a lot of potential supporters by what he said. It was a great lesson in how to be an effective Christian witness.


Dave said...

Thanks for linking to me, and I am glad you found my piece worthwhile :-)

Now, please take the following as a compliment (hope you aren't sensitive about your age). One of the reasons I really enjoy your blog is how you add the benefits of your life experience to everyday issues. The story of the encounter from the sixties is a great example. I always find hearing your perspective on issues fascinating and illuminating, from social security to the war or whatever, it always lets me look at things from a different angle. I want to say thankyou for that.

Hoots said...

I have never been sensitive about my age. Thanks to a "baby face" both my wife and I are routinely told we don't look our age, though that is apt to stop happening pretty soon.

Years afterward I understood the impact formative years had on my development. At the time, however, I was just someone doing what he felt he had to do. Because of my own life experiences, I place tremendous importance on role models and peer pressure. Too few people appreciate how much control they have in their lives simply by making choices about which peer group to identify with and which role models to help focus their aspirations.

M. Simon said...

Humanism's great truths:

1. Men who get enough to eat generally fight less.

2. There may be a "Force". It is not worth fighting about.

The problem with religiion is that it usually degenerates from "here, let me help" to "I'm right and you are eternally wrong".