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  • Thursday, June 18, 2020 11:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members and Friends -

    It is gratifying to see decisions come out of our current Supreme Court that I wholeheartedly support.  The recent decision affirming LGBTQIA+ people protection from employment discrimination is certainly a major step to recognizing the worth and dignity of marginalized people.  Here is the American Ethical Union's statement on this momentous decision.

    In Love and Justice,

    Randy

    AEU Statement on Supreme Court

    LGBT Discrimination Decision

    The American Ethical Union (AEU) enthusiastically endorses the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in favor of gay, lesbian, and transgender people’s right to work free from discrimination. This ruling is a long overdue affirmation of the Constitutional and statutory rights of millions of citizens as guaranteed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The ruling written by Justice Neil Gorsuch was straightforward and unambiguous: “We must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

    The AEU has long called for equality regarding sex, gender, orientation, and identity, including: Reaffirming Support for Equal Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer People (2010); supporting Same-Sex Marriage (2004) and Legalization of Gay Marriage (1996); condemning discrimination against Homosexuals (in 1979 and 1972); and, calling for an end to Sex Discrimination (1971). This ruling moves our country one step closer to the day when the full dignity of LGBTQIA+ Americans is recognized in law.

    We now call on the Department of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice to step up their defense of the rights just reaffirmed by the highest court in the land. The AEU calls on the Trump Administration, which recently moved to ban transgender people from serving in the military and backtracked on medical protections for transgender Americans, to declare its intention to enforce this important ruling. We stress that no assertion of “religious freedom” should be allowed to enable employers to evade or ignore the intent of the court’s ruling. Further, we call for full protections for LGBTQIA+ people in public accommodations, healthcare, and every area of US life.

    This is a day to celebrate an important step forward in the protection of the rights of all in the LGBTQ+ community—but much work remains to be done. The American Ethical Union cheers the decision in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and celebrates the work of the lawyers and activists who made this day possible. At the same time, we dedicate ourselves to the fights still ahead. Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people is an attack on their inherent worth and dignity, and should be outlawed in every sphere of life. Ethical Humanists continue to fight for a world in which LGBTQIA+ people are wholly free.


  • Monday, June 01, 2020 12:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear members and Friends -

    Many of you may have received the most recent AEU Statement in your e-mail.  In case you have not had an opportunity to read it, here it is...

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy

    AEU Statement on George Floyd and the Aftermath

    Another month, another murder of a black person by white police officers. This time it was George Floyd. When will this injustice end? How many times do the American people have to be confronted with videos of heavily-armed police officers brutally killing restrained and unarmed black men, women, and children before we find our moral voice? Shot in the back. Strangled in a choke-hold. Killed by a knee on the neck. How many more?

    Police killed more than 1000 people last year, disproportionately black people and predominantly black men. George Floyd’s murder is yet one more demonstration of the intersection of two deadly systemic problems: deeply ingrained racism, which teaches white people to see black people as less worthy of dignity, respect, and even life; and a wholly unaccountable criminal justice system which is resistant to reform, and unwilling to take the measures proven to reduce killings by police. These problems lead to intolerable inhumanity. They prop up a racist status quo in which people of color, particularly black people, are told every day that their lives do not matter to many police officers and to many white people. The statistics are undeniable: black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. They are more likely to be unarmed when they are killed. And officers are hardly ever held accountable for these killings, with only 1% of police who kill ever even being charged with a crime. Consequently, throughout this country police officers kill with virtual impunity, and communities of color bear the deadly cost of racism and unaccountability.

    There are glimmers of hope. We welcome the fact that Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, was quickly fired, and has now been charged with murder. We now await and urge the charging of those who aided him in this crime, the three officers who stood by and failed to intervene while he killed a man on camera. Until police are held to the same criminal standard as all citizens – police are citizens, after all – there is no hope for justice for victims of police brutality. We further call for all police departments to implement the measures we know to reduce police violence. All police departments should require officers to: use all other reasonable measures to maintain the peace before using force, and especially deadly force; they should require the reporting of all uses of force; they should ban chokeholds and strangleholds; they should require de-escalation; they should require a warning before an officer shoots their firearm. It is shocking and sad that only a minute fraction of all the USA’s police departments have all these life-saving measures in place.

    It is past time for a reckoning. People of conscience everywhere must reckon with our country’s history of racism, and recognize that a racist ideology was built into the very founding of this nation, and infects our thinking to this day. We must reckon with our broken criminal justice system, which prioritizes an illusion of safety conjured by the presence of heavily-armed police over the reality of justice, which only humane community-based solutions can provide.

    We must reckon with our own complicity in a system which has prioritized white lives over black lives for centuries, and take to the streets, engage in the political process and, when necessary, protest for change. In the coming days we will see communities speak out in anger and even in rage. We may be scared and affronted by the ways in which oppressed communities express frustration with their oppression. Yet now is not the time to wag fingers: now is the time for action, to mobilize ourselves and our communities to end this deadly intersection of injustices in which we are all implicated, for the dignity of all.


  • Saturday, May 30, 2020 9:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police led to an uprising protesting Police violence and ongoing and systemic racial injustice.

    Protests included burning a Police Station, property damage, fires, and looting businesses.  It is hard for white people to understand the form, motivation, and purpose of these acts of protest and civil unrest.

    I look to people of color for an increased understanding.  Trevor Noah provided excellent insight in his video "George Floyd and the Dominos of Racial Injustice".  Give it a look...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4amCfVbA_c&t=14s

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy Best


  • Sunday, May 03, 2020 1:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire – [Part 1]

    OPENING REFLECTION

    There are times when I am able to forget that I am living in a pandemic with social distancing and sheltering in place.

    Right now is not one of those times.  Although I participated in Zoom meetings before the pandemic, Zoom meetings have become my quintessential pandemic experience.

    I forget the pandemic while wandering in the woods with my grandsons, absorbing the natural beauty that surrounds me.  Being in the presence of boys three and five-years-old, I easily forget my cares and fears, for a moment, before they return to haunt my thoughts.

    I am privileged to experience these moments of peaceful transcendence.  Being in a position to briefly forget the challenges of a pandemic that is all too apparent in my daily life. Being able to pretend that the natural beauty that surrounds me, looking so strong and vibrant, is a permanent presence rather than an impermanent and fragile ecosystem, ultimately endangered by human activity.

    Life in my house appears to be much the same, as long as I remain in my house.  When I venture out, I see people maintaining distance from each other, wearing facemasks or bandanas.  I am socially distanced, able to connect to some of my communities through computer conferencing though I remain estranged from others.

    I know that my life is and will be forever changed by this pandemic.  I can only imagine how this pandemic experience will affect my grandsons.  I add this to the legacy that I give them – of a warming planet with rising sea levels becoming increasing hostile to supporting a human population.

    I can reflect on the meaning of my experience because I have the mental band width to do so.  I face remote and abstract existential threats, removed from my immediate concerns and everyday life. I am in a position to not worry about not having money to pay rent and feed my family.  I am able to quarantine in comfort while so many others cannot.

    Many struggle to survive day-by-day.  People who lost their jobs or can’t afford healthcare.  People who are homeless and cannot shelter in place.  The pandemic brought all of this to the surface.  It has raised my awareness about the inequality and injustice built-in to America’s way of life.

    I am one of the lucky ones.  Our household income dropped as Sarah’s Pottery Camps and Pottery sales at the Farmer’s market both shut down. We are lucky because we can access other resources to allow us to get by.  Many can’t. 

    On a recent bicycle ride on a stunningly beautiful Spring day, I enjoyed cycling through downtown with sparse traffic.  On Main Street, I passed a man who has a shoe-shine stand out on the sidewalk.  He is often there.  He took off his cap holding it out asking for help.  I stopped my bike, dug my wallet out of my panier, and gave him a ten.  He thanked me and said that he was 64 years old and he and his wife were having trouble getting by.  I said, “I understand, I’m 65”, not really knowing why I gave my age.  He asked when my birthday was.  I said November.  He told me his was in October.  I wished him many more birthdays and went on my way.

    I felt good to have done something but uneasy that I had not do enough.  It felt good to make a simple, trivial, human connection.  I live in a time when simple acts of kindness are acts of defiance to a system that marginalizes and dehumanizes too many of us.

    After my ride, I returned to a home of comfort.  I wonder where he would go that night.

    During this Pandemic, I am occupying a new mental space.  Affected yet not really affected.  Isolated yet not really isolated.  Shocked by the number of COVID-19 infections and death counts that have not touched me closely, yet.  I offer some help and am disappointed that I have limits on the amount of financial commitment that I am willing to make.  I remain safe while many are not.

    I feel stuck with nowhere to go and unsure of what I should do.  One thing that I can do, in my newfound isolation, is to try to make sense of it all.

    Here is what I have come up with…

    AMERICAN EMPIRE IN DECLINE

    In the comfort of my quarantine, recently, I have been watching various YouTube documentaries on the Fall of Civilizations and Empires.

    The Bronze Age, Roman Britain, Persia, Rome, Napoleon.  This activity has not given me peace of mind. Looking at America today I began to think – I bet I know who’s next.  Given the state of the world today, many factors are present that could lead to civilization’s collapse.  Global pandemics, climate degradation, competition for resources, including food, and water.  Wars for domination.  The Climate Crisis. Racial and Ethnic violence.

    Chris Hedges wrote:

    "Empires fall a little bit at a time and then all at once. Over the last two decades, America has proven itself to be well along on that journey. The coronavirus pandemic has simply pushed our nation further along that downward spiral."

    Writing in the Atlantic, George Packer described this woeful state of affairs:

    "The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus — like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly — not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message. Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state."

     

    America is not what it was, or at least America is not what it was in the rearview nostalgia of our collective imagination.

    Let’s not kid ourselves, the time for Making America Great Again has past – and don’t forget, America was never great for everyone.  It is time to move on, to re-imagine a future of inclusion and sustainability.

    America is a Nation in decline.  This is evident in the inability of Congress to do just about anything.  It took a Pandemic to crack the partisan wall.  Even then, Corporations get billions while mere citizens get twelve hundred bucks.  Relief?  I don’t think so, more like business as usual.

    Two of the things that prevent us from crawling out of the muck rising around us, are the abandonment of Truth and the denial of Expertise.  These are not new trends in American society.  Under the Trump Administration, Truth and Expertise have achieved new lows.

    Our recent experience with the coronavirus pandemic illustrates perfectly how compromising Truth and Expertise endangers our health, our lives, and our future.

    First, I will look at Truth.

    ASSULT ON TRUTH

    Trump lies.  Constantly.  Incessantly. Shooting from the hip and making it up as he goes along.  The sycophants that he surrounds himself with, Fox News, and Republican Officials, all scurry to reinterpret and explain his egregious statements.

    Challenging and fact-checking Trumps tweets and pronouncements is exhausting. This is exactly the point.  Trump has succeeded in wearing out Truth.  Truth has become vapor ware – elusive, ephemeral.  Once Truth is lost, so goes accountability.  Facts become irrelevant.  Reality open to whatever construction those in power determine it to be.

    I am experiencing a re-framing of my expectations.  I now expect most everything that Trump says to be a lie.  I am becoming increasingly numb to misinformation. I don’t think that my reaction is unique.  This is viewed as success by those who seek to misinform me.

    Does it matter if Truth was long ago thrown under the bus?  Just what is the cost?

    Josh Gletzer wrote in Slate Magazine:

    "… it matters that the president keeps lying. When Americans head to the polls in November to decide whether President Donald Trump deserves a second term, they will be voting for or against radically different President Trumps. In part because he lies so fluently and easily, some people will vote based on what Trump says he’s done, and others will vote based on what he’s actually done—and the gap between the two is perilously wide.

    Many Americans—understandably—believe that Trump does what he says he does. If he says he’s suspending immigration, they believe he’s suspending immigration—even though he’s not. If he says he’s cutting off travel from China, they believe he’s cutting off travel from China—even though he’s not. If he says he’s “right now building a tremendous wall” between the United States and Mexico, they believe he’s right now building a tremendous wall between the United States and Mexico—although he’s not. (Nearly three-quarters of Republicans say they trust Trump’s information on the coronavirus, … —despite the stream of swiftly disproven falsehoods he’s issued on the subject.)

    Democracy depends on accountability, and accountability depends on knowing whom we are holding to account and for what. And we can do so only by knowing what our elected officials have actually done. But Donald Trump has—it appears, and quite deliberately—inverted all that. He says he’s doing one thing, then he does another. He says there is a new policy, and then it doesn’t materialize. He tweets out his feelings, then his underlings get to work creating a new policy or rule that may or may not have any legal force. It may or may not ever go into effect. But some voters will go to the polls believing, reasonably, that he did something because he said he did."


    I think that it is time to Make Truth Great Again, and Real.

    No political party has a monopoly on the erosion of Truth.  All of us have narratives to make sense of the world around us that can distort our ability to deal with facts that disagree with our carefully constructed narratives.

    The deliberate and systematic assault on Truth has happened before in many places.  Today, in America, the Trump Administration took it to much higher level.

    As Truth and Facts spiral down the reality drain, they are accompanied by the decline in support for Knowledge and Expertise.  We are reaching a point where any opinion, no matter how uninformed, has come to be considered equal to opinions based on knowledge and expertise.

    Again, our recent experience with the Coronavirus outbreak illustrates the folly of undermining Expertise.

    ASSULT ON EXPERTISE

    Rachael Maddow blogged: It's unreasonable to expect a president to be an expert in everything. It's quite reasonable to expect him to realize that he's not an expert in everything.

    As the Pandemic unfolds, Expertise has been continuously challenged, ignored, and rolled over.

    Steve Benen, the producer of The Rachael Maddow Show, chronicled Donald Trump’s March 6th visit to the CDC in Atlanta…

    "A reporter asked the president how American hospitals can properly prepare for a viral outbreak if they have no idea how many patients to expect. Trump's answer rambled a bit, before the Republican assured everyone:

    "I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this? ' Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president."

    Trump has also claimed to be the world's foremost authority on everything from terrorism to campaign finance, the judicial system to infrastructure, trade to renewable energy.

    Now, our polymathic leader has "a natural ability" to understand epidemiology, too, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding."


    Trump instituted daily Coronavirus Press Briefings so that he could make the pandemic all about him, taking credit for any successes and deflecting blame onto others.  Controlling the media spin, something that he is an expert in.  Desperately seeking a miracle cure to avoid accountability for downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, Trump began promoting hydroxychloroquine as a preventive and a cure. 

    Contemptuously dismissing attempts of his own pandemic experts to reign him in, Trump ignored their caution and steamrolled ahead.


  • Sunday, May 03, 2020 1:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire – [Part 2]

    I admire the work of Trump’s health care and pandemic experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, their dedication to sharing their expertise with the public – finding creative ways to present information, while trying not to directly contradict the President’s pronouncements.  That they often feel the need to coat their corrections with vacuous flattery underscores how far expertise has fallen.  The emperor has no clothes and we all must tell him how nice his new suit is.

    Trump continued to promote hydroxychloroquine on several occasions, ignoring the cries that rigorous studies had not been completed to show any benefit.

    This caused Ian Reifowitz to write in the Daily Kos:

    Donald Trump and his state propaganda sycophants over at Fox News hyped hydroxychloroquine as a "game changer,” until it was game over. We learned this week that taking the drug not only doesn’t help people recover from COVID-19, it makes it more likely that they will drop dead. Why doesn’t this make hordes of Republican voters say, “What in the world am I doing listening to these shameless liars?” The fact that they don’t is what makes them dangerous.

    But wait, there’s more.

    To paraphrase George Orwell:

    Hydroxychloroquine is a game changer.

    Hydroxychloroquine has always been a game changer.

    We will not speak of hydroxychloroquine.

    We have never spoken of hydroxychloroquine.

    Of course, this is even bigger than just hydroxychloroquine. Even though they had been warned—and thus knew better—Trump, Republicans, and Fox News have been lying about the severity of the coronavirus since the start. Then, once the bodies started piling up, they began lying about the fact that they had lied.


    Trumps touting of the RIGHT TO TRY hydroxychloroquine was more like a RIGHT TO DIE.

    Perhaps my disappointment about not believing anything the President says has an upside.

    Even though most areas lacked sufficient testing, as infection rates continued to escalate and deaths continued to increase, an even more desperate “very stable genius” ventured further into areas where he knows less than nothing…

    NOBODY KNOWS MORE ABOUT IT THAN ME

    Last week, Trump again began offering Medical Advice at his daily Coronavirus Press Circus:

    [Trump heard that] "The virus dies quickest in sunlight," leaving Trump to wonder whether you could bring the light "inside the body."

    "So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing," Trump said, speaking to [one of his officials] during the briefing. [Trump recounted],"And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too."

    He added: "I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."

    "I'm not a doctor," Trump added. "I'm like a person who has a good you-know-what," pointing to his head.


    You may have caught on that Trump is the train wreck that I can’t stop following.  These remarks were completely off the rails.

    In George Orwell’s 1984 one of Supreme Dictator Big Brother’s slogans was: Ignorance is Strength.  Not in this case.  For that matter, not in any case.

    Trump’s light and disinfectant suggestions caused great consternation. Disinfectant manufacturers worried about uninformed people actually attempting what Trump suggested. They issued warnings.  The media was all a flutter.  The remarks were condemned as wildly irresponsible by many, while right wing pundits and Fox News offered absurd and convoluted alternative facts.  Trump later undercut all of these efforts by declaring the he was being sarcastic.  Yeah.  Right.

    COVID-19 was a wakeup call to American arrogance.  We are not the shining city on a hill, resplendent, isolated, and independent.  America is irrevocably connected to the rest of the world.  America is indeed an Empire in Decline.

    One of my favorite journalists, Amanda Marcotte, wrote in Salon

    The reason Trump is grabbing onto whatever asinine idea pings around inside his head is not mysterious. Public health experts have made it clear that the only thing that will actually solve this crisis is mass testing, but Trump doesn't want mass testing, because he thinks it's bad for his "numbers."… So instead he bounces around from one "miracle" solution to the next, desperate to come up with a reason we can just skip the mass testing strategy that could actually work.  

    I learned a new word in researching today’s talk.  “Astroturfing”.  An article in the Guardian defined Astroturfing as:

    "...the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view."

    I ran across this term referring to the protesters rallying in many State Capitals to re-open America.  Responding to Trump’s suggestion that “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.”  An astroturffed popular uprising of the fanatic few was orchestrated, complete with AK-47’s and Confederate flags. 

    My freedom to swing my fist is restricted, when it comes into contact with your face.  Your freedom to wander about unrestricted during a national pandemic is restricted, when it could rapidly spread a deadly contagion.

    OPENING UP

    Opening up too soon could cause COVID-19 cases to skyrocket erasing the gains made by social distancing and sheltering in place.  None-the-less, many States are doing so.  Some states, like Georgia, are way ahead of this…

    The other day, a friend forwarded this Facebook Posting to me from “Professa Cross”.

    Sooooo.. I did a thing.

    Since Georgia is open now I called the Governor’s Mansion and asked them when it would be open for a tour.  I would like to schedule one. A very irritated staffer told me that there will be NO tours until further notice…  Hummmm.. I asked “and why is that??? Surely if nail salons and gyms are open today the mansion would. I find it very unamerican that my rights to visit my Government’s mansion would be infringed upon.  Who is your boss?”

    The irate woman replies. “There is a nation wide pandemic and the mansion is being closed is for safety purposes.”

    “Oh really??? You don’t say??? I still would like to schedule a tour please.  The Governor himself said it was safe to come out.”

    The irate lady hung up in my face.


    Ready or not, the Federal Government has stepped back and many states, reacting to political pressure from suspect sources, are becoming open for business again.

    Making the trade-off between access to work and public safety is a difficult choice.  Especially when the safety net to support closed businesses and the unemployed is non-existent or frayed and thin at best.  

    Staff writer Rachel Donadio wrote in The Atlantic:

    "Negotiating between lives and livelihoods is not only a political and economic issue. It’s a philosophical one, with consequences that will resonate for years to come."

    Political choices are being made.  The absence of a prominent role for Truth and Expertise in these choices will resonate for years to come.

    I have come to the realization that my government, and much of America itself, is not well intentioned. Not merely incompetent in its mechanizations, but selfish, greedy, and malevolent.  A threat to the future of life on this planet.

    CLIMATE CRISIS

    That is what is waiting for us when America opens up again.  America can shift its focus, from ignoring and denying the Coronavirus, to ignoring and denying the Climate Crisis.

    The goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 still needs to be achieved.

    The Coronavirus was not a time-out that extended the deadline for moving beyond fossil fuels.  However, there was a positive effect from the Coronavirus Pandemic.  It turns out, not surprisingly, that dialing down social and economic activity, is good for the environment.

    The New York Times reports that according to the International Energy Agency “Global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to fall nearly 8 percent this year, the largest drop ever recorded.” 

    This is an opportunity to adopt some of the behavior changes that we exhibited during social distancing and sheltering in place, to continue to achieve at least some of these reductions.

    RETURN TO NORMAL

    Chris Hedges wrote: "These days are the good times, as compared to what is coming next."

    I fear that the trials of today will be overshadowed by travails in the future as the Climate Crisis becomes manifest.

    There will be no return to normal after the COVID-19 Quarantine.  It is lifting in many places across the country, right now – before we have the necessary volume of testing and contact tracing methods in place.  Get ready to ride a second wave caused by opening too soon.  Politicians making the opening decisions will continue to fail to take responsibility for the deaths caused by their precipitous actions – after all, who could have foreseen this?  Compounding this tragedy is the fact that too many Americans will accept these excuses.

    The Federal social distancing and sheltering in place recommendations have expired.  Some States are choosing to open up.  This is not going to change my caution.  I will seek out the informed expertise of pandemic health care professionals before my behavior changes, not pundits or politicians.  This takes effort, effort that many are unable or unwilling to undertake.  Politics, political identity, holds sway for many.  In the near future will I be able to tell a stranger’s political allegiance on a trip to COSTCO based on whether they are wearing a facemask or not?

    I know that things will not magically return to normal, for Normal never was.  Calling the previous state of a failed political system and looming environmental catastrophe normal, stretches the word to its breaking point.

    NWCoaster wrote in the Daily Kos:

    "This feels like the apocalypse, and it is.  Not in the way some imagine: the world isn’t going to end, it never does…, and it won’t this time around.  But the original meaning of apocalypse is something like 'to reveal, to lift the veil.'  This chaos is what is necessary, to see through this world and get glimpses of the new one ahead."

    The COVID-19 apocalypse lifted the veil. What I have seen about my Government and my Country, the trauma of poverty and death, greed and corruption, incompetence and blame, cannot be unseen.

    I steel myself for the oncoming commercial onslaught exhorting me to buy, buy, buy and consume, consume, consume.  This is Capitalism’s idea of a return to normal.  A normal where I can fill up my car with low priced gas and resume murdering the planet.

    My five-year-old grandson David, is in the “Why?” phase.  His life and media consumption leave him largely sheltered from the violence and suffering in the world.  Conditions that if asked “Why?”, I can only fail to provide an adequate response.

    Thinking about the world that he will inherit fills me with shame.  I have failed my grandchildren.  I am aware of this feeling, and I know that it will pass.  Perhaps sooner than it should.  I could try to make excuses but they do not serve me well.  My hope is that the humanist values imparted to him, respect for the worth and dignity of others, cooperation and compassion, respect for truth and expertise, will help him cope with the difficulties that he will face.

    Maya Angelou wrote: “Hope and Fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one to stay.”

    I will try to hold on to hope.

    Life is balanced.  Decreased human activity, driving to work, running unnecessary errands, business and industry shut-downs, and little air travel, revealed clearer skies by day and brilliant stars at night.  Nature has crept back into urban areas.  It is as if my distancing from so many of my human connections allowed me to see my connection to nature anew. To see the earth that sustains me. I glimpsed what life could be if I decreased my consumption.

    My life became busy in different ways.  Connecting to others by different means.  Realizing the richness of relationships that I previously took for granted.  Taking more time to improve my relationships with those that I love.

    My goal is to ignore these renewed commercial temptations and try to see new possibilities.  I want to bring back what works and discard those things in the times before COVID-19 that did not improve my life and contributed to the Climate Crisis.  I want to join a conspiracy to kill fossil fuels and not let this beast rise again to dominate the planet.

    I am beginning to see the edges of a new way forward.  Seeing a world where people care about each other, help take care of each other.  A life not focused on striving for more but making do with less.

    In addition to human tragedy, in some ways, COVID-19 may be a great gift.  Filtering up from the death, incompetence, and injustice of it all, I am beginning to see a future that isn’t driven by Wall Street profits and corporate greed.  A future where human needs and human rights are lifted up.  A future that I can co-create with others.

    Brene Brown wrote:

    "We will not go back to normal.  Normal never was.  Our pre-corona existence was not normal other that we normalized greed, inequality, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.  We should not long to return, my friends.  We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.  One that fits all of humanity and nature."

    Perhaps I can convince others to help stitch this new garment with me.  Together we can transform the way we use the world and treat each other.  We must for there to be a future that includes all of us.


  • Tuesday, April 21, 2020 12:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Earth Day 2020

    Wednesday, April 22nd is Earth Day.  The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day observance.

    I find trouble recalling what Earth Day commemorates during this time of social distancing and sheltering at home.  COVID-19 takes up too much of my mental bandwidth.  The Climate Crisis is lurking in the background.  Waiting to reemerge when I resume my daily routines.

    Earth Day’s focus has changed over the years, from the early focus of the environmental movement on preservation and conservation, to recent concern about the climate crisis and global sustainability.

    The Earth Day website, earthday.org, lists their current mission:

    To build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet.

    Earth Day Network’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet. 

    We are committed to mobilize the world to take on the most urgent challenges of our time — from climate change to deforestation to species extinction.

    Together, we can build the world’s largest and most diverse mobilization for the future of our planet.

    Tomorrow, I plan on taking a break during my day at home to go to the earthday.org website.  There I will find different actions that I can take each hour, things to learn, and, hopefully, inspiration.

    - Randy Best

  • Sunday, April 05, 2020 7:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Members and Friends -

    Since my Platform Talk this morning was not recorded, several of you asked me to provide the text of my presentation.  Here it is.  I welcome any feedback that you may have.  It is long, so our website requires me to divide it in two parts.

    Yours in Ethical Community,

    Randy Best

    Part 1: Reframing Humanism During a Time of Crisis  by Randy Best, NoVES Leader

    There are two parts to my talk today. 

    One part originates in the American Humanist Association’s Master Class that I attended on February 29th and March 1st.  The course title was Intersectional Humanisms: Identity Politics, Justice Work, and the Proliferation of Social Difference.  It was presented by Professors Monica Miller and Chris Driscoll, from Lehigh University. 

    This course expanded my horizons by questioning the assumptions underlying my humanism and examining humanism through a different, intersectional lens.  More on that later.  Even though this course was at the end of February, just over a month ago, it seems like a lifetime has passed since then.

    The second part of my talk applies one of these ideas to our current Coronavirus Pandemic Crisis and how an expanded humanist approach can provide a basis for action.  I thought about presenting a talk that was a total escape from the issue that occupies so much of my time, the Coronavirus laden Elephant in the Room.  I found that I couldn’t do this.  Not now anyway.  It would be a moral failure for me not to talk about the problem confronting all of us. Maybe someday in the future I will be able not to talk about it.

    Before going any further, I want to share where I am at right now.

    I fear that I have plunged down the Coronavirus Rabbit Hole and spend a significant amount of time wrapped up in this world-wide human catastrophe.  I do not think that I am unique in this preoccupation.  Nor do I think that staying informed is a bad thing.  Knowledge eases my anxiety, even though the continued self-centered incompetence of the Trump Administration’s leadership makes me angry.

    Escape definitely has its appeal – and I find myself doing a lot of that too.  I become rooted to my computer screen, reading articles about this plague and our responses to it.  Too often, my escapism alsoinvolves my computer screen.  Yes, I find that there are a lot of good things to watch out there in the virtual world, and a lot of crap too – I seem to consume both at various times. 

    It is too easy for me to stay in my virtual cocoon.  It takes willpower to walk away and interact with my family.  To make a commitment to prepare dinner so that I get out of my room.  To schedule a walk or conversation or time to work in the yard.  I struggle for balance.  Sometimes I fall short.  Often, I am emotionally overloaded by the whole experience and find breaking my inertia to be difficult.

    I realize that I am making choices.  I need to be more conscious of the choices that I am making.

    Another thing that I do to interrupt my cycle of news saturation and escapism is connecting with NoVES members and friends through Zoom.  These social video meetings are welcome interruptions to my routine, allowing me to share experiences with others and give and receive human connection and support.

    I moved from an over-scheduled life of in person meetings and events to an over-scheduled virtual life of Zoom meetings and events.  I doneed to be more conscious of the choices that I make and their consequences.

    I have entered a new and different phase of existence.  One of localized, limited, personal connection with only virtual connections to the larger world.  I need to get my act together to consciously shape what I want my life to look like in a post-Pandemic world.  I realize that this is more than I can take on right now.  The future is difficult to imagine.  It will be a rough road to get there.

    Now to turn back the clock to my course on leap day weekend.  Seemingly so long ago…

    What motivated me to attend a course called Intersectional Humanisms: Identity Politics, Justice Work, and the Proliferation of Social Difference?

    I was drawn to it because it was an area of thought that I was unfamiliar with.  It offered an opportunity to learn something new.  I wanted to interrogate and expand my humanist vision.  I wanted to challenge my dismissive view of Post-Modernism and learn what I might be missing.  I found this course to be all of that and more.

    The course jammed much of a semester’s academic study into two one-day sessions.  There was a lot of reading, representing different perspectives: from Angela Davis’ analysis in Women, Race, and Class to books from a black feminist perspective and others on the black trans experience.

    The class posed such questions as:

    What Race is your Sex?

    What Race is your Humanism?

    How does Transgender identity fit into Humanism?

    How do notions of Whiteness create norms that erase expression of marginalized groups?

    We examined Intersectionality – maintaining multiple identities at once and how they interact and overlap – and how this is not recognized in American Jurisprudence.

    In court discrimination claims, black women experiencing discrimination because they are both black and women are forced to choose to be either black, or women, since the law does not recognize “black women” as a protected class.  The impact of this intersectional identity is not recognized.

    The instructors challenged the class to redefine and expand the Humanist Project, altering and enlarging my humanist perspective.

    There is much that I could cover from this course.  I am going to focus on how the course changed my ideas about the supremacy of the role of REASON in Humanism.

    The course introduced me to deconstructing the Authority of REASON.

    “What is that?” you may well ask. Let me explain.

    Reason is often cited as an important part of Humanism.  In our own NoVES F-A-Q page, under

    WHAT IS THE ETHICAL SOCIETY?  it says:

    The Ethical Society is a humanist congregation.  We affirm human dignity, celebrate reason, and work together for social change. We are a place where people come together to explore the biggest questions of life without reference to scripture, religion, or deities. We are inspired by the supreme ideal of human life as working to create a more humane society. We believe in human reason and agency as means to create a better world. This commits us to value the dignity of every individual, recognize their right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their lives.  We welcome humanists, agnostics, and atheists, as well as people from various religious backgrounds. We come together to celebrate our journey through life and affirm our ability to live ethical lives without traditional religious beliefs. 

    Reason appears twice in NoVES’ statement about who we are.   This is not an unusual statement for an Ethical Society.

    Humanism often highlights Human Reason as an approach to solving human problems.

    This class altered my view of Reason.

    Reason can’t be divorced from its social context.  To many marginalized groups, Reason is viewed as a tool that white men use to reinforce their domination and impose their ideas.  Those who hold other perspectives and reach other conclusions are considered “unreasonable”.

    Conclusions produced by Reason are seen as universal truths – even though they are often strongly influenced by culturally situated assumptions.

    Reason locks us into a problematic normalizing of difference.  Reason can be used to override and erase difference.  Reason can’t be divorced from its social context.

    Individuals are not autonomous actors that just happen to think exactly like Rene Descartes.

    The course challenged me to recast HUMANISM to be free of this assumption.

    Here’s a quick example.

    The Golden Rule states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    The Golden Rule assumes that everyone wants, what you want.

    It universalizes people, and in doing so, loses important differences in backgrounds, experiences, and desires.  It erases difference.

    Universalized Truth produced by Reason faces the same problem of erasing difference.

    After completing the readings, listening to the professors, and discussing it in class, I landed in a different place.

    I do not advocate eliminating any reference to reason or “throwing Reason under the Bus”. 

    I do bring a new understanding to the privileging of Reason in Humanism.

    Reason is important and Reason has its limitations.

    I no longer favor a Humanism that centers Reason.

    It is time to put the Human back in Humanism, to CENTER THE HUMAN IN HUMANISM.

    How I define the “Human” in Humanism is of primary importance.  Who is included?  More importantly, Who has been left out?

    I favor a Humanism that CENTERS the HUMAN, Human Interests and Human Needs, Human Compassion, without excluding anyone.

    I needed to see things differently in order to change.  My experience in the Intersectional Humanisms Course, the ideas of Professors Monica Miller, Chris Driscoll, and the thoughts of other class participants, shifted my viewpoint to consider other perspectives.



  • Sunday, April 05, 2020 7:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Part 2: Reframing Humanism During a Time of Crisis  by Randy Best, NoVES Leader

    Just as Humanism needs to center the Human in its framing, our National response to the Coronavirus Pandemic needs to center the Human as well.

    While falling short in many ways, America is responding in ways that have not been seen since the 1918 H1N1 Influenza Pandemic.  Americans are practicing Social Distancing and Sheltering at Home.  Many businesses are closed and many are working from home.

    These responses to a Pandemic are not new.  They are new to almost all of us living today.  These responses are also an example of Americans acting for the collective good.

    Some people choose to ignore these restrictions.  Most choose to abide by these new social rules.

    Examples of selfish hoarding are over shadowed by acts of consideration extended to friends and neighbors.  People looking out for each other, taking care of each other.  These examples of human concern and generosity encourage me and help mitigate the stories of a health system in crisis.

    The heroism of health care workers carrying on knowing that eventually they too will become infected is inspiring.  People who work in Grocery Stores and other necessary services continuing to go to work, knowing that they are putting themselves at risk.

    I do my small part by staying home and reflecting on how my life, and the lives of those around me, has changed, morphed into something that I am trying to wrap my mind around.

    The Coronavirus Pandemic is eating up my mental bandwidth.  Taking over my anxiety box, displacing the Climate Crisis that formerly filled up so much of my mental space.

    The Coronavirus Pandemic can’t fully displace another resident of my anxiety box, concern over a corrupt and incompetent Trump Administration, because these issues are now so fully intertwined.

    Just as the election of Donald Trump led to exposure of America’s racist underbelly.

    Just as the Climate Crisis revealed the consequences of Capitalism’s excesses – the blind pursuit of wealth – and growth without limits – without regard for the planet and those left behind.

    Now the Coronavirus pandemic reveals the political short-sightedness, greed, and incompetence of the Trump Administration and his enablers in the Republican Party.

    I have a president whose concern with how a pandemic would affect his re-election, caused him to ignore the advice of his own health officials, and postpone mobilizing federal resources to address the problem.  This delayed action has cost, and will continue to cost, human lives.

    Until just a few days ago our President was talking about re-opening the economy after Easter.

    On March 23rd President Donald Trump said that he wants to reopen the country for business in weeks, not months, and claimed, without evidence, that continued closures could result in more deaths than the pandemic itself.

    "We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem," Trump told reporters at a briefing Monday, echoing a midnight Sunday tweet. “We have to open our country because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems."

    Make no mistake here, concern for the economy means that Wall Street is not making any money.  The concern is not for the small business that are going under because they can’t stay open or people put out of work by sheltering at home policies who can’t pay their bills.

    John Auerbach, president of the nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health, said widespread illness and death also have a powerful economic impact that’s impossible to ignore or play down.  “If you don’t flatten the curve and minimize those who are getting infected, the amount of sickness will cripple business.”

    On March 25th Trump Tweeted:

    The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!

    Trump and his sycophants have asked us to sacrifice ourselves for Trump’s re-election and to save Capitalism.

    We are now reaping the results of the increasing commodification of our lives, of human life, of life on this planet.

    Trump walked back his idea to open everything up after Easter.  He is now talking about continuing shelter in place policies for months and anticipating 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths from COVID-19.

    Most pandemic experts in the Trump Administration are talking about a toll that is significantly higher, 400,000 or more.

    Still, I am stuck with a president whose thinking is still at least a week behind the rest of us.

    Expect to see Trump’s announcements about the duration of shelter in place timelines and COVID-19 death estimates to increase over the coming weeks to become more in line with CDC projections.

    But wait, yesterday President Trump circled back again.  Slate Magazine reported yesterday that…

    Even as Trump warned of the problems ahead for the country and vowed that the government would use “every single resource we’ve got to keep our people healthy, safe, secure and to get this thing over with,” he also suggested he wanted a quick end to the social distancing measures. “We have to open our country again,” Trump said. “We have to open our country again. We don’t want to be doing this for months and months and months.”

    Health officials continued to urge Americans to take social distancing seriously. “I want to actually just plea … to the American public, you know, as sobering and as difficult as this is, what we are doing is making a difference,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “So we really need to continue to do that.”

    The article continued, Trump once again continued pushing hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for the coronavirus and even suggested he could start taking it as a preventive measure. “If it were me — in fact, I might do it anyway. I may take it, okay? I may take it,” he said. “And I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it.”

    Leadership that goes against the advice of Health Care Officials in his own administration, endangers lives.

    Joseph Stalin, is reported to have said: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

    Contemplating so much human tragedy, so much death and a health care system stretched beyond its capabilities shakes my foundations.  I am also afraid that I will become numb to it all.

    The response of Trump, his Administration, and far too many elected officials is to place “the Economy” at the Center.  It is to center “Corporate Interests” above “Human Interests”.

    Centering Corporate Interests over Human Interests is reflected in the Congress’ $2 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Package signed into Law by President Trump on March 27th.

    It represents a compromise between House and Senate interests.  Between Human and Corporate interests.

    As a compromise, it attempts to strike a balance between Human Needs and Corporate Greeds.

    This package:

          Provides $560 Billion in relief for Individuals ($1,200 for some of us and unemployment benefits can really add up)

    •       Provides $560 Billion in relief for Individuals ($1,200 for some of us and unemployment benefits can really add up)
    •      Provides $500 Billion in largely unrestricted relief to Big Corporations
    •      $377 Billion to Small Businesses
    •      $339.8 Billion to State and Local Governments
    •     $153.5 Billion for Public Health
    •     $43.7 Billion mostly for Education
    •     $26 Billion to enhance the Safety Net

    Much of the economic relief included in this legislation amounts to continuing the policies of Trump’s tax cut for the richest Americans, more Socialism for the wealthy while sacrificing the rest of us to the so-called Free Market that is more and more out of reach.

    NPR reported that: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, described the legislation, known as the CARES Act, as necessary emergency relief and vowed to put partisanship aside to get it done.

    "No economic policy can fully end the hardship so long as the public health requires that we put so much of our commerce on ice," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. "This isn't even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That's what this is."

    I have a feeling that Big Corporations can expect an additional windfall in the near future.

    I need to see real leadership at the top.  I need to see a plan to beat COVID-19 and it just isn’t there.

    Misinformation abounds.  That much of it emanates from the President and his Fox News echo chamber makes it so much worse.

    I am morbidly fascinated by those who pick up on this misinformation and obtain drugs falsely touted as Coronavirus cures that often come with dangerous side effects.

    Amanda Marcotte wrote in Salon:

    So why are so many people so eager to get their hands on drugs that are clearly dangerous and may do no good?

    The most immediate reason is simple: The people rushing the pharmacies are Republicans, and both Donald Trump and numerous Fox News personalities have told them these drugs are a "game-changer" that can save them from the coronavirus.

    But there's a reason these false or unproven claims are resonating with the ordinary citizens of Trumpistan. The hope that there's a hard-to-get miracle cure that will save them speaks directly to the poisonous social Darwinism that guides modern conservatism.

    It reflects deep hostility to the very concept of a shared public good and a fierce attachment to a racialized ideology of individualism that treats public goods such as health care as things to be hoarded by those with the privilege, money and status to do so.

    Conservative ideology simply doesn't allow for the possibility that anything, including pandemic management, is best managed with a "we're all in this together" mentality. Instead they're drawn to this fantasy that there's a Platinum Member COVID-19 status that can be purchased, which will allow them to opt out of the suffering of the plebeian class that has to quarantine or risk sickness and death.

    Somehow, the knowledge that people are being conned into looking for miracle cures does not make me feel any better.

    I waiver in and out of closing my mind to the reality before me, as it is so terrible to contemplate.  And I know that I am among the lucky ones.  I have the resources to get by.  If, when, I get sick, there are several factors in my favor.  Many are a lot less fortunate.

    Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

    "COVID deaths are disproportionately spiking in Black & Brown communities. Why? Because the chronic toll of redlining, environmental racism, wealth gap, etc. ARE underlying health conditions."

    "Inequality is a comorbidity," she added. "COVID relief should be drafted with a lens of reparations."

    If the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic is likely to be extreme in the richest nation in the world, I shudder to think of how it will play out in developing countries.

    I avoid despair by maintaining connections with others.  As conditions worsen, I will look to others, to support each other thorough our grief.

    How do I center Human Interests and Human Needs as I struggle to find a way forward?

    I look to others who are centering Human Needs as they look toward navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic.  Plans that Center Human Needs are out there.

    The Poor People’s Campaign produced one such plan.  It has 6 points and calls for:

    1. Immediate, comprehensive and permanent paid sick leave for 100% of employees for this pandemic.

    2. Immediate health care for all, including 100% free COVID-19 testing, treatment and quality care to all, regardless of income, age, disability, citizenship or any other factor, and including the uninsured.

    3. A guaranteed and adequate annual income / universal income, including rapid, direct payments to all low-wage and temporary workers, from grocery, fast food and delivery workers, care workers, and pharmacists, to other workers who remain on the front lines and are severely underpaid.

    4. A national moratorium on evictions, tax foreclosures, rent hikes, and a national rent freeze. This includes an immediate halt to encampment sweeps and towing vehicles of unhoused communities. Federal resources must be directed to local and state governments towards opening and preparing vacant and habitable buildings, properties and warehouses to house and provide adequate care for all people who are homeless. This includes ensuring education, food assistance and health care for homeless children and provisions for medical testing, treatment and respite for the homeless.

    5. Debt forgiveness for medical debt, student debt, water, utilities and other forms of household debt.

    6. Protections for our democracy and the right to vote with expanded opportunities to vote during this crisis and an expanded census to ensure every person is accounted for.

    These six points are not the whole solution.  They could become a Human Centered part of the solution.  The $2 Trillion CARES Act falls far short of achieving these six proposals.  It goes part way on one or two of them.

    Political change is necessary to move toward achieving Coronavirus Pandemic solutions that truly focus on Human needs.  Until then, political compromises will make limited progress.

    What can I do?  I can overcome my apprehension and inertia, connect with those around me more for better self-care and strengthen my connections with communities of concern, with all of you, with NoVES.  I believe that we can get through this together.


  • Sunday, April 05, 2020 7:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members and Friends -

    I promised to post the Platform Talk given by Hugh Taft-Morales, the Leader of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Ethical Societies.

    It was an excellent talk.  Here it is.

    The “7 Deadly Sins” through a Humanist Lens, Hugh Taft-Morales – 3/29/20

    INTRO

    As we struggle with the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, I read a blog by Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries who serves as one of Trump’s “faith advisors.” He wrote in our health challenge we were “experiencing the consequential wrath of God.” He continued, “Since God is just and sin must and will be paid for, wrath…is an inevitable consequence.” In my talk today about the “7 deadly sins,” Drollinger reminds me of what I have always rejected about this particular approach to sin. It only makes sense in the context of a god who allowed his own son to suffer crucifixion.  It’s simply awful.

    But I reject this version of “sin.” I agree with Aviad Kleinberg who in his book, 7 Deadly Sins: A very partial list, states at the beginning, “Sin is a cultural construct.” I agree. I believe most humanists would agree as well. The word is used today colloquially in secular explorations of human psychology and ethics. But, Christianity did shape its meaning, so I’ll start there.

    While people use different terms in naming the seven deadly sins, I will the traditional list offered by Dante: pride, sloth, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and greed. 

    My plan for this talk is that after exploring sin in general as well as these particular sins, I’ll suggest that humanists respond to the angry god approach to sin as follows. First, rather than wasting time and energy punishing oneself for imagined sins, focus on approaching pleasures by cultivating moderation.  Second, while we may fall short of our own ideals, that’s a part of life. With humility and grace, we should continue reaching for our ideals.  And third, life offers enough good, pleasurable, fulfilling things for us all to live a flourishing life. We just need to learn how better to share.

    FOUNDED ON SIN – CHRISTIANITY

    Kleinberg states flatly that Christianity was “founded on sin.” It began with Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the garden for daring to eat from the tree of knowledge.  It came to this country through the fixation Calvinists had about inherent sin and wrathful divine punishment. As Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards warns his followers, due to their sinful nature, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire….

    He goes on and on threatening hellfire and inducing fear, guilt + shame. It can make life a living hell.  Professor Wendell Watters writes, “The Christian is brainwashed to believe that he or she was born wicked, should suffer as Christ suffered, and should aspire to a humanly impossible level of perfection nonetheless….. A true Christian must always be in a state of torment.” Again I say that this is a terrible way to look at life.

    It’s a worldview that can have particularly devastating effects on young children. That’s why Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief who once served as Director of Education for the American Ethical Union, told his children that there is no such thing as hell. To imagine that original sin condemns us all to intense suffering for all eternity can damage young psyches.  While Dale wanted his children to come to their beliefs on their own, he wanted the possibility of hell off the table. 

    SLOTH

    Given the self-isolation necessary during this pandemic, and the occasional urge to just curl up on the couch and do nothing, I’ll start with sloth.  Unlike the other deadly sins, sloth results from an absence of something.  It’s about the absence of love – love for self, or for others, or for the good things in life, or for god. Dante describes it as, "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." Without a love of god, or for anything else, an inertia sets in - physical laziness and psychologically paralysis ensue. It can lead to despair and even suicide.

    In colonial New England where the Puritan work ethic ruled, sloth was condemned with particular venom.  In Dante’s Purgatorio, those guilty of sloth are sentenced to run as fast as they can at top speed forever, like gerbils on a running wheel – a particularly ironic punishment for sloth.

    HURTFUL DESIRES – PRIDE, WRATH AND ENVY

    Unlike sloth, the other deadly sins are marked by the presence of some negative characteristic. Pride, wrath, and envy results from “hurtful desires” – desires to harm others and place yourself above them.

    Pride is seen by many Christian as “the father of all sins” – the original sin. Some say that Adam ate the apple because he wanted to be “like god,” wise and self-sufficient as only “He” can be. Jonathan Edwards warned his audiences that “pride is the worst viper that is in the heart…. [I]t was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out….” It is a particularly infectious sin, one that author C. S. Lewis said was the most egregious affront to God. 

    Not surprisingly, pride is seen as the devil's most prominent trait. Lewis writes, “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."

    In Dante’s Divine Comedy, those condemned by god for pride must wear heavy stone slabs around their necks so that their heads remain bowed forever. It’s the price they pay for their hubris.  Might Ralph Drollinger say that the virus we face is our divine punishment?

    Let me turn now to wrath. Wrath is defined by Aristotle as “a desire, accompanied by pain, for a conspicuous revenge….” (Kleinberg 115) It is uncontrolled and indiscriminate. God of the Old Testament is an angry god, “vengeful, vindictive, irritable.” As Kleinberg wrote, “Christ himself often spoke and acted like an angry man, expressing rage toward the Pharisees, toward the money changers in the Temple, even toward a barren fig tree.”

    Many warrior cultures embrace wrath as useful in maintaining order and winning wars.  Kleinberg explains that “[v]iolence…is a way of life in many societies. Anger in such societies is both feared and praised.”

    But warrior cultures have wreaked havoc and caused much suffering. The god of the old testament gets away with wrath. But for us humans, uncontrolled anger can hurt even those who are angry. They can be self-destructive. As Henry Edward Manning, nineteenth century English Cardinal said, angry people are "slaves to themselves."

    Envy is related to wrath in that it seeks to injure and seems insatiable. Human’s have always coveted what others have in terms of prestige, power or possessions. Cain killed his brother Abel just due to envy about Abel being God’s favorite. Envy corrodes relationships.

    Envy can also be self-destructive. It’s not pleasant to be “green with envy.” When it persists, it can slide easily into a state of permanent self-pity. Kleinberg says of envy, “[t]he green-eyed monster, with its malevolent gaze, pursues us from cradle to grave.” Everyone has more than me, has better than me. Woe is me! And what punishment does Dante contrive for the envious? Having your eyes sewn shut! No more seeing what others have that you do not!

    DISTORTED LOVE – LUST, GLUTTONY, AND GREED

    The final three sins – lust, gluttony, and greed - all flow from what some describe as “a distorted or excessive love of good things.” They connect with our animal nature and bodily desires. Lust usually fixates on sex, gluttony on food, and greed on money. To me, the pleasure of sex, food, and money are not bad in and of themselves. Most people welcome the pleasures of sex, food, and money. It’s when their place in one’s life becomes excessive or distorted that problems arise.

    In many puritan cultures sex was a dirty word and lust was considered more dangerous than enjoyable. Eros has the power to corrupt us and drag us into debauchery. Cardinal Manning said that lust turns us into “a slave of the devil.” One of a number of instances of using slavery as a metaphor to describe our relationships to sin.

    Because lust is so powerful, every culture imposes some limits on sexual choice. There are taboos against certain forms of sexual expression: sex with yourself, with others of the same sex, with family, with children, with unconsenting partners, with animals. Some condemn masturbation as “self-abuse”? What about sodomy, child abuse, incest, rape, or bestiality? 

    Many conclude that, as Kleinberg puts it, “[t]he only safe way to avoid the slippery slope of lust is to abstain entirely from sex.” Dante wrote that to purge yourself of lust requires you to walk through flames. Unforgiven lustful sinners pay for their lack of control by being blown around by turbulent hurricane winds forever.

    The humanist in me asks: why not just practice a little self-control and take into account the feelings of anyone else involved? Can’t a deep breath and some respectful conversation avoid that slippery slope?

    Another sin of “excessive love of a good thing” is gluttony. Pope Gregory the Great wrote, “The glutton eats before he’s hungry and continues to eat when he is no longer hungry; he craves costly and gratuitously sophisticated dishes; he eats too much and with excessive eagerness; he seeks not sustenance, but pleasure; he becomes the slave of his stomach and of his palate.” Gregory believes we need sufficient nutrition to assure health, but nothing more. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca explained it, “The body’s needs are few: it wants to be free from cold, to banish hunger and thirst with nourishment. If we long for anything more, we are exerting ourselves to serve our vices, not our needs.”

    Perhaps that’s true, but over-eating can have deep psychological roots and threats of hell may not work so well.  The anxiety it produces might even lead to more binge eating. Many people go to the marketplace for answers and spend some of the $22 billion dollars a year spent by Americans on weight loss products. 

    I would encourage a combination of behavioral supports – drinking water before meals, keeping junk food out of the house, and using smaller plates – and individual or group counseling. Eating is such a primal part of being human that it may take time, but adding the threat of damnation for such a sin seems counter-productive.

    Regarding the third sin arising from excessive love of good things is greed. According to the church, greed arises when materialism obscures things of higher value. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed takes over when “man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." Cardinal Manning explained that greed "plunges a man deep into the mire of this world, so that he makes it to be his god".

    Perhaps. But isn’t the devil in the details? How much is enough? After all, people are hoarding toilet paper now.

    Some may say that most – not all - of us in this room are guilty of the sin of greed. I know I have more than I need. Perhaps I should be punished as Dante suggests -  tied up and laid face down for all eternity, our faces mired in the dirt for our pursuit of earthly things. That will teach us that money is the “root of all evil.”

    While I agree that personally I have more things than I need, I think the biggest problem with greed is that it has been encouraged by our system and taken to extremes.  So let me talk some about some problems with capitalism.

    CAPITALISM AND SIN

    In much western culture, greed is encouraged. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that individual avarice leads to collective good. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street, preached that “Greed is Good…. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”  Greed is good!

    Advertisers promote the urges behind lust and gluttony and tell us not to worry about greed. “You deserve limitless sexual satisfaction, and we’ll sell you Viagra and pornography to help. You deserve the finest foods and the largest helpings. Go ahead – get an extra-large popcorn – it’s only ten cents more, for goodness sakes. In the drive through, make that a Whopper, and – what the heck - supersize me! In capitalism there are no sins of “excessive love” because there’s no such thing as excess.

    Consumerism encourages envy. Advertisements glorify having better looks, better car, better lawn than your neighbor. With the illusion of unbounded abundance, capitalism promotes unceasing purchases and easy credit. On top of that, spending is patriotic!

    Adler started Ethical Culture to fight raging capitalism and rampant materialism. To promote the best that we can be.

    HUMANIST PSYCHOLOGY AND SIN

    So, what are humanists to do with sin in general? I don’t think we should accept the Christian version of sin nor the capitalist rejection of it in favor of consumerism. But I think we have to address it more fully, especially because some think we humanists are most responsible for it. Had Adam obeyed God, we might still be innocently lounging about in paradise!  Ethical Culture Leader Joe Chuman links sin to the very birth of humanism in his book, Speaking of Ethics. He writes, “Adam’s eating of the fruit was therefore the first act of secularization, of creating a world in which God was not necessary. In a sense, Adam was the first humanist.” (p. 60)

    While Adam is a fictional character, Petrarch is identified by many as the real father of humanism. Even though he was a Christian, he believed that human reason, creativity, and goodness gave our species tremendous potential and responsibility for building civilization. Such optimism inspired Renaissance humanism.

    This optimism arises centuries later in “humanist psychology.” While it acknowledges the horrible things that humans do – we lie, we cheat, we pillage – humanist psychology rejects the notion of unforgivable original sin. Pioneers in humanist psychology, like Charlotte Buhler stressed the positive and self-regulating agency of human beings.  Another pioneer, Abraham Maslow, wrote, “As far as I know we just don’t have any intrinsic instincts for evil.”

    Another humanist psychologist, Carl Rogers, sums it up this way: “For myself, though I am very well aware of the incredible amount of destructive, cruel, malevolent behavior in today’s world—from the threats of war to the senseless violence in the streets—I do not find that this evil is inherent in human nature.” Humanist psychology celebrates our many acts of random kindness.

    The underlying optimism of humanist psychology is absent in much Christian portrayals of sin. In his article entitled, “A Humanist Looks at Sin,” Joe Chuman explains, “[t]he problem with the notion of sin is that it makes a fetish and a celebration out of a particular aspect of human experience. It seizes upon and dogmatizes pessimism. In this sense it partakes of its own romanticism. But it is a joyless celebration that we could well do without. I submit that life is hard enough without the additional burdens imposed by the concept of sin.”  

    Indeed. Life is hard enough without beating ourselves up for being flesh and blood; for being animals with needs and desires. Do these needs and desires lead us astray now and then? Of course, but so too do our over-zealous attacks on them. No one is perfect, and we shouldn’t demand others be perfect. Isn’t that what Jesus was trying to get at when he confronted a mob about to attack an adulterous woman and called forth, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

    In An Ethical Philosophy of Life, in a chapter entitled “The Shadow of Sin,” Felix Adler writes, “No one can escape doing evil. If not in its grosser forms, then in ways subtler and more complex, but not therefore less evil, every one is bound to make acquaintance with guilt. He need not go out of his way to seek occasion, let him see to it that he improves the occasion when it comes, as inevitably it will, to his spiritual advantage.” In other words, we should learn from our shortcomings.  It is to our “spiritual advantage,” Adler reminds us, to curb the excesses of our imperfect biological nature.

    David Breeden, senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis and a leading religious humanist, points out that the seven deadly sins are generally “internal, instinctive drives that — when over-indulged — lead to poor personal health and anti-social actions.” This is true regarding the sins of excessive love of good things: lust, gluttony, and greed. Over-indulgence is, for Breeden, not an affront to God, but a “failure in genuine love for nature and humanity.”

    How do we as humanists responsibly check hurtful desires and nurture genuine love of good things? I conclude by exploring three suggestions: nurture moderation; humbly accept limitations; and keep working to share good things with others.

    NURTURE MODERATION

    Let’s start by nurturing moderation.  One lesser known of the aphorisms etched into the Temple of Apollo is simply, “Nothing too much.” This spirit guides Aristotle’s ethics. I believe it flowed out of the fact that he was the most naturalistic of the great ancient philosophers.  He studied animals and plants. He saw how often they flourished when avoiding extremes such as drought or flood, burning sunlight or icy darkness.  Moderation helps us grow.

    For Aristotle, reason is not in constant opposition to bodily urges, but rather functions as a guide to help bodily needs be appeased in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. For Aristotle, it’s good to enjoy pleasurable things. Regarding food for example, it’s best not to over-indulge and not starve. Find that middle ground which cultivates the virtue of temperance.  For Aristotle, Similarly, it is good to have a sense of self-worth. It is a healthy love of a good thing. Too little will lead into undue humility; too much will lead to vanity. The middle ground is appropriate pride, a “golden mean” between too much and too little. People sum up Aristotle teaching with the phrase, “all things in moderation.

    Humanists often appreciate the wisdom of taking the “middle way” in navigating the Christian world of extremes - of light and dark, of good and evil, of god and the devil. In Humanism needs and desires of the body are not really “right” or “wrong”.  Perhaps they are appropriate and inappropriate, depending on the time and place.  But, sin is a social construct, and its meaning depends on context. In our lives let’s check hurtful desires and nurture genuine love through moderation.

    HUMBLY ACCEPT LIMITATIONS

    A second piece of advice: in the light of our ideals let us also humbly accept our limitations. Thanks to Joe Chuman I understand how theologian Reinhold Niebuhr saw sin arising from a paradox at the heart of human experience: while we live in this world, we can imagine a better one.  For Niebuhr, humans live between two worlds – the ideal and the actual. In our actual world we live in a world where we fall short of our goals, and where our president is unable to deal effectively with our pandemic, with global change, and with many other important issues. It our ideal world we live up to our all our goals and we have political leadership that does the same.  We have to learn to accept this inevitable gap between our ideals and our lived existence.

    What, after all, are our alternatives? Here are alternatives: three false escapes, if you will. 1) We could deny the ideal, accept life for what it is, and do nothing to change it into something better.  2) We could turn to “mechanisms of escape,” as Niebuhr writes, “obliterate our anxiety or desensitize it by losing ourselves in drink or drugs.” A Christian might describe that as being lost in sin.

    3) We try to escape the existential gap between ideal and actual by dissolving our selves into something greater than ourselves. We could deny individual autonomy and responsibility by giving up our will to God. We could do the same by joining a cult. Or a fascist group. Plenty of Germans escaped the painful dissonance of ideal memories of German glory clashing with the actual humiliation of World War I by joining the Nazi party. We choose too often to be led into deadly myth than be responsible for a painful presence.

    A more noble path for humanists is to acknowledge the gap between the ideal and the actual, to carry the burden of unfulfilled aspirations. After all, for those of us privileged enough to have dreams in our lives, there is a duty to see the world as it is. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Keep your eyes on the stars, but feet on the ground.” What other choice do we have if we are to live fully?

    SHARE GOOD THINGS WITH OTHERS

    Third piece of advice: let’s share good things with others.  In seeking a Humanist response to “sin,” it should be of no surprise to you that I will conclude with an Ethical Humanist moral: we need to share good things with others.  Too often classic Christian and western approaches to sin are self-referential.  It’s all about the purity of our own souls. It’s all about our own damnation or redemption. It’s going to hell or sitting at the right hand of god. 

    Both sin and the extreme methods to purge ourselves of it distract from our relationships with other people. Let’s not revel in sins of the flesh nor waste precious energy punishing ourselves for being animals. Let’s work to extend the good life to the millions of people struggling to survive, struggling to enjoy the pleasures we are lucky enough to enjoy.

    So as humanists working together, let’s reject the punishing concept of sin and instead nurture moderation, humbly accept our limitations, and work to share the good things in life 

    Thank you.

    The “7 Deadly Sins” through a Humanist Lens

    Most humanists reject the concept of “sin” as it relates to divine judgment. Many liberal religions embrace the idea that human nature, as flawed as it is, is basically good.  So how do humanists process those personality traits condemned by the bible as “deadly”? How should we regard pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth? Come explore with Hugh Taft-Morales some of the different approaches to how we biological creatures might process these traits within the context of our lofty ideals. 


  • Tuesday, March 31, 2020 11:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear NoVES Members and Friends -

    I hope that all of you are doing as well as possible during our times of "sheltering in place".  Isolation can be a time of loneliness and not being able to work is a source of financial hardship to many of us.  I am available for conversations  and I welcome phone calls to break up my day.  Call me at 919-672-9076 for a chat if you need a listening ear.

    I am sharing the American Ethical Union's response to COVUD-19.  It was sent out earlier on the AEU's President's List.  I thought that it should receive wider distribution.  It provides links to useful resources, articles, and meetings.

    May your virus be brief and your quarantine peaceful,

    Randy

    AEU Response to COVID-19

    The AEU is providing or considering providing the following services for our member societies during this current crisis. Feedback about other services you would like to see are very welcome!

    • Shared “Connections” Calendar on the AEU web site, listing platforms and other events offered by member Societies.

    • “Connections” forum to allow members to share information about the current situation. There is already a lot of great information there. 

    • Virtual Sunday Ethical Education for Kids -- This is envisioned as a collaborative effort between the AEU and interested Societies. The goal is to offer a joint program with breakout rooms for different age groups. Existing SEEKhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1RKFW2oZGKzdyrNv0cuJVs4coV2MGFUYxaWIH-6fTtxg/edit?usp=sharing volunteers or staff from the interested Societies would help to plan and run the sessions. 

      • Timeline: First Virtual SEEK session on Sunday, April 5

      • Planning meeting on Thursday, April 2 at 7pm Eastern Time. https://zoom.us/j/349334424

    • Support call for Societies with Buildings, on coping with COVID-19. 

    • Information about conducting Virtual Platforms and other events. 

      • Document about online Platforms has been drafted and is being reviewed. You are welcome to add your own comments. 

      • A similar document about other kinds of gatherings will also be created. 

      • An information-sharing call will be scheduled for next week. Feedback about whether a “Zoom Platforms 101” session or a cross-Society information sharing session would be more useful is most welcome! If there is enough interest, happy to do both. 

    • The AEU is exploring whether it is possible to offer a pastoral counseling service for Societies which do not have a Leader.

      • Timeline: we expect to have determined if this is possible by early next week. 

      • If it is not possible to do this with our current Leaders, alternate possibilities are being explored. 

    • The AEU is interested in feedback about how the Visiting Leaders’ Program can be useful to Societies during this time. 

    What else can we do to support our Member Societies at this time? 

    For your enjoyment, there have been a number of articles published mentioning Ethical Societies and the AEU during this crisis. 


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