TED Conversations

Tom Drake-Brockman

This conversation is closed.

How to change the world with compassion: a new spiritual humanist purpose for existence

The problem with secular humanism is its tendency towards nihilism. If we are to find the resolve to transform our world, we need to believe there is a purpose to this universe and that requires a divine plan. But the ones on offer by conventional religion do not cut the mustard. They fail to resolve nagging enigmas like why God created a world with so much evil; why he so often fails to respond to prayers; and how a goal centered on some mystical afterlife can only distract us from the critical problems of this world. What we need is a new spiritual paradigm that could resolve these problems.
How about this:
Imagine before the ‘big bang’ there was simply the goodness of God. But that goodness could not be fully actualized due to the absence of its opposite- just as, for example, white might not be fully appreciated without the presence of black. This inexorable necessity eventually produced the ‘big bang’, a spontaneous (more than God created) clash of opposing titanic forces. The result was a universe based on finite mortality and hence self preservation. This made self interest the dominant instinct of all the living creatures that evolved within it. Given the inexorability of this situation, God has had very limited scope to intervene without upsetting natural laws and a moral order based on free will. But when sentient life evolved, he managed to infuse some primates-humanity- with a capacity for transcending their egoism. Later, he sent a few messengers like Buddha, Christ and Mohammed to show us how to do this.

Their central message and that of prophets generally, was compassionate love- compassion for the suffering that God had unwillingly caused. God selected humanity to become his agents, giving us the task of reducing this suffering and improving the world, Far from being helpless sinners, we can see ourselves- as humanists have always insisted we should- as masters of our own destiny.

Could we transform the world with this kind of world view?


Closing Statement from Tom Drake-Brockman

Sorry but I don't think many of the contributions have been strong so much as trite, platitudinous and narrow minded. But the issue obviously hit some raw nerves, especially with Ted lover!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jan 27 2013: Hi Tom.
    We can invent any worldview we chose, but if it doesn't conform to the actual truth, then it is of no consequence. Better to try & ascertain the truth & then work within that framework to try & better the lot of mankind.
    Trouble is that historically we tend to argue about what truth is; however I would say this is a better bet than trying to get humanity to rally around a manufactured worldview.

    • thumb
      Jan 28 2013: Peter I would argue this spiritual humanist worldview is important as it is not just 'invented'. It is firmly based on inveterate wisdom found in a number of religious/ mystical texts which are discussed in my recent book, 'Christian Humanism: the compassionate theology of a Jew called Jesus'

      As you suggest, there are few if any self evident truths. It is only from historical experience that we can gain a useful guide to truth. Thus the utility of the idea that "all men are created equal" only became painfully obvious after centuries of elitist oppression. Similarly today, religious faith is failing to solve pressing problems and creating horrible new ones. Perhaps it is time to ditch the notion of faith and provisionally adopt a paradigm like spiritual humanism that seems both rational and constructive. Empirical experience would then establish if it was so, not blind faith or 'manufactured' world views.
      • thumb
        Jan 28 2013: You say, "It is firmly based on inveterate wisdom found in a number of religious/ mystical texts". You have shown that your understanding of those texts is VERY different from mine. Mine is supported by the new physics. Yours is only supported by people's ideas.

        If you understood what Jesus is truly saying, you would not make such a brash claim - and you would know that it is most unlikely that Jesus was a Jew. Science supports the teachings of Jesus whereas it does not support the teachings of Paul/Christianity. Historical evidence does not necessarily point the way to truth in any case.

        History tells us that the world is flat, that the solar system is the whole universe, that Christianity is a very cruel and despotic religion, and that the earth is the absolute center of the universe. Science tells us that the earth is a sphere, that the solar system is a tiny little place on one of the outer arms of a galaxy that exists among billions of other galaxies, that the "universe" is probably a "multiverse", and that time is not what you think that it is.

        the useful guide to truth today is coming through science. Any spiritualist humanist view that depends on a god is "invented". You can hate to see the words, but your hate doesn't make them any less true. There is enough science available to KNOW that IF there is a god, it bears absolutely NO resemblance to the God that you propose.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.