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A Humanist, By Any Other Name

I recently received a brochure from the American Humanist Association (AHA) inviting me to join with the more than twenty thousand others who fill their ranks. I like invitations, especially invitations to join something. It shows that the inviters believe I might have a contribution to make to their efforts to achieve their goals or fulfill their mission. The rhetoric of the brochure clearly demonstrated that the inviters assumed I was a humanist (“As a humanist, you are not alone”), and that I should want to be part of an organization that has such prominent “humanists” as Bill Nye, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Adam Savage, Gloria Steinem, Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Suzuki, Steven Pinker, and Joyce Carol Oats. As if these luminaries aren’t enough, I should know that the association’s membership included such prominent people as Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Sanger, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Katherine Hepburn (all now of blessed memory). Eerily the brochure pinpointed the areas of c…

Can Our Politics Be Moral?

It seems such an odd question. If it strikes us as odd, it’s probably because we’ve become inured to the corruption and duplicity of our current exceedingly-polarized politics. Nowadays, when we think of moral, we probably think there’s an ought hidden in there, as in “we ought to do this, and we ought not do that.” We say to ourselves, “Folks who think or do this are moral, while folks who think or do that are immoral.” That’s conventional wisdom (though for many it is more conventional than wisdom), and each of us quite likely has at least some inchoate sense of the sorts of ideas and behaviors that we would judge to be moral or not. Politics, on the other hand, is about gaining and exercising power through the apparatus of government in order to achieve certain ends, outcomes, purposes, or objectives sought by citizens. In a civil community or society where many people live together under a government, unanimous agreement is extremely rare because the objectives vary; different pe…

Homeless? You're Under Arrest!

So sacred and inviolable is the home that no one may enter it lawfully for any purpose without the expressed consent of the home’s occupant – or a lawfully-obtained warrant based upon probable cause. Whether the home in question is a millionaire’s multi-million dollar mansion overlooking the sweeping valleys of the Rocky Mountains, or an impoverished farmworker’s hovel in southern Arizona, or something in between, the right of the owner to be safe and secure in his or her person and possessions in their place of residence is inviolate. The trajectory of development for this idea goes back to Roman civil laws on privacy, from where the principle was incorporated into English common law. The doctrine of privacy and the right to be safe and secure in one’s own home was articulated by the English jurist Sir Edward Coke, who in 1604 ruled in a case that “the house of every one is to him as his Castle and Fortress as well for defence against injury and violence, as for his repose; … domus …

The Bane and Burden of Homelessness

Like most daily newspapers, the Colorado Springs Gazette has a section for readers’ letters to the editor. Recently the paper published one such letter that demonstrated a remarkable lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the situation of homelessness. In all urban areas across this country, there is a significant and increasing number of homeless persons, and Colorado Springs is no exception. Local and state governments, community-based social service organizations, and city residents are finding themselves ill-equipped to lower these numbers and resolve what many people think of primarily in terms of “problem.” In the letter to the editor, the Gazette reader wrote: “If we are going to solve the problems caused by the homeless population in Colorado Springs, then we need to address the root causes and not the symptoms” (emphasis mine). When I read this, I was crestfallen; the reader cared less about the circumstance of those suffering homelessness and more about the difficult…

Diversity and Religious Conservatism and Liberalism

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. [Mark 10:17-22, NRSV]
This passage from the Gospel of Mark is particularly onerous, both to me and, I believe, to the church in general. It appears to be asking something of us that we are most unwilling to do, and we don’t quite know wha…

The Perversion of Loyalty

I was never a Boy Scout, but for some reason I memorized the Scout Law when I was an adolescent, and to this day I can recite it with confidence: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Because I was not a Boy Scout, I never had to recite either the Scout Oath (On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight) or the Scout Law in the company of my peers or in public, but I have on occasion slipped the Scout Law into a sermon or a lecture, always with attribution. Lately, however, I have been giving some thought to one item on the Law’s list: loyalty. The reason for this is all the political noise surrounding the current president and his propensity to require loyalty from his associates and political appointments, a requirement which he apparently does n…