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!

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    Jan 27 2013: We could also adopt a worldview of compassion without any particular religious underpinnings. Why not?
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      Jan 28 2013: I think we have already done that Fritzie- its called secular humanism and its not working.
      The trouble is that without a spiritual dimension, compassion, with few exceptions, tends to descend into sentimentality and run out of steam. That is why evil triumphs in places like the Congo, Syria and North Korea; and that's why as Sunitha Krishnan points out in her TED talk, we do little to stop child trafficking, “the world’s largest organized crime.”
      But if compassion was elevated to being the sole purpose for our existence and the only path to our ultimate redemption, things might shift somewhat. At least its worth a try I would have thought.
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        Jan 28 2013: I don't know whether I can articulate this well, Tom, but compassion could feel like a person's biggest purpose or value even without redemption being involved. Are you saying that all values run out of steam if they are not tied to the idea of redemption or just this one?
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          Jan 28 2013: Fritzie the redemption I refer to is more about this world, which is is grave danger of destruction- than the next.
          There are no doubt many compassionate people who have no spiritual convictions- Fred Hollows comes to mind. But for most of us mere mortals, compassion is likely to take a backseat once the going gets tough. It needs to be integrated into the fabric and daily pulse of our lives.If we are going to save this world and stop the onslaught of evil, I believe that must happen.
          Why not take Christianity for example and transform it from the vacuous and increasingly irrelevant charade it has become into something that is far more consistent with the historical Jesus and worthy of him, a paragon of compassion whose real priority was the urgent needs of this world?
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        Jan 28 2013: Others will be better able to work through this with you, Tom. I have no Christian heritage or education and so know nothing about this, but many discussants here, even if they have rejected what they were once taught, will at least have some knowledge and vocabulary to go on.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 28 2013: Tom, You do not have any idea what secular humanism is. You have taken your definitions from some Christian propaganda. Before you demean secular humanism, you should have a better understanding of what it is. You clearly have NO idea. You think that it is something that it is not.
  • Jan 28 2013: I disagree with you that secular humanism has a tendency toward nihilism. Maybe nihilism is in the beholder. Anyway, the more important point you made is that WE CAN TRANSFORM OUR PRESENT AND FUTURE WORLD by each of us living in accordance with our own highest awareness of what is good and right. This means we let go of the ancestral religious brainwashing that led us into the world you and I desire to change. It seems so strange and sad that everyone in any religion truly believes that theirs is the "one true religion" and that people with different beliefs are simply wrong and require looking down upon or even killing (some religions teach that.) Let's make creativity and truthful expression desireable in our society. Power to the positive. Let's transform the world to be a happy experience for all throughout lifetimes. We can do this. Let's.
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    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.

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      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.
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        Gail .

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        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.
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    Gail .

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    Jan 27 2013: You begin with saying that secular humanism leads to nihilism. I couldn't disagree more. Secular humanism leads to self-awareness, and self-awareness leads to compassion - for self and others. (When I say for self, I do not mean that it allows one to escape responsibility for one's choices; but rather, that it demands that one accept full responsibility for one's own choices.)

    You then go on to give an almost secular humanistic explanation for the Big Bang. The difference being that you insert a powerful being called God, who has some power-over creation rather than a god-concept equivalent that is the power-of creation with no ability to have power over it. This view diminishes and vastly disparages the human, which of course, encourages lack of responsibility thus lack of compassion.

    What if you were to say that god is "being" rather than "a" being. What does that do to the human? It makes the human a god - self created out of god-stuff (awarized energy) - able to select and then create a life according to his/her own choosing. And, in our common culture, when such persons begin to experiment with their powers, they quickly discover that as they do to others, they do to themselves. All thoughts, words, & deeds have their own consequences. As they belittle others (as your view does of me), they are belittled in their own minds, and their access to conscious use of their power is decreased.

    A self-aware person is cognizant of the perfection of being, thus is able to see the perfection of self and others in spite of mistakes made. This is far more compassionate than seeing the inferiority of others and letting them know it (which is cruel not compassionate)

    I think that it's so sad that this is the entirety of the message that Jesus offered, but the religion that claims to stand for Jesus' teachings prefers the opposite (mutually exclusive) teachings of Paul. Jesus didn't worship the Judeo-Christian god. He tried to expose it for what it is.
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      Jan 28 2013: I think it is almost self evident that without some purpose for our existence, life is ultimately futile and meaningless. That doesn't mean we cant enjoy it and find it satisfying but it surely does apply a real break on human aspiration.
      From my understanding of all the great sages and mystics of history, self forgetfulness and detachment rather than self awareness is the key to compassion
      I don't see how this view diminishes and disparages humanity when it effectively makes us-not God- masters of our own destiny.
      I think regarding human beings as being capable of perfection is not compassionate but dangerous. That is what underpinned Marxism and Nazism. We can be self confident about our basic goodness and unlimited capacity and even strive for perfection-but that's a long way from ever achieving it. That I believe was the crux of Jesus' message though I largely agree with your comments in the last paragraph.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 28 2013: I have never met a self-aware person who is not aware of his/her purpose for existence. It comes with the territory. Compassion comes from an absolute awareness that all are one. Thus, as I do to you, I do to me. (Golden Rule in practice)
  • Jan 28 2013: Hi, Tom !
    I think, that the idea of purpose is on the way back to the secular life through science, paradoxically.
    We are no longer a 3D animal and the result of ' trendless fluctuations' or random walk', because there is no random . What was given a bad name : chaos , appeared to be an order of infinite complexity. It implies that our existence has purpose. The information/consciousness/ god/spirit ... whatever the name is prior to matter. And matter is manifestation of spirit/information...god..
    I've met somewhere this phrase : " Time is a theatre of God's becoming" it makes " the seer is the seen '' ' we are one ' ...quantum entanglement holographic principle , Mandelbrot set ..." god is within ''... and many many other things converged into one. It's very hard to explain what i've got, but since then i seem to know what to do, how to live my days, it's pretty simple : be kind to people, it's much more important to be kind than to be right or just; never do to others.....because there are no others ; we are not two with nature, we are one , whatever you are doing to nature you are doing to yourself. Nothing is hidden from spirit/god for spirit/god is all that is.
    It can be simply put, but it's not that easy to implement. I think it's worth trying :)
    I am not religious or am i ? I mean, have never practiced any religion.