|CC Drew Myers, Flickr.com|
Earlier this week I listened to Reza Aslan speak at St. Thomas University in Houston. I'm now reading his book, 'How to Win A Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror'. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who thinks of themselves as a humanist.
Aslan makes the point that as globalization breaks down the influence and power of the nation state, humans are dividing into two camps. The smaller one is that of people who think of themselves as citizens of the world. The larger one is people who search for identity in being part of a people (Jew, American, Arab, Persian, black, white, Han, etc, etc) or as members of a religion (Muslim, Jew, Catholic, 'Christian', Humanist, Communist, Socialist, Hindu, etc, etc).
It suddenly dawned on me that humanists are as much divided as are other people. A few humanists speak of "us" and mean the human race. Most humanists speak of "us" and mean either atheists, or Jews, or Americans, or haters of Islam, or haters of fundamentalism, or Democrats, or whatever. And then I thought of the words of the former honorary president of the American Humanist Association, Kurt Vonnegut, who dismissively described a "granfalloon": "the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows -- and any nation, anytime, anywhere." He went on to say, "If you wish to study a granfalloon, Just remove the skin of a toy balloon."
And here lies my disillusion NOT with humanism (pledging allegiance to the human race), but with many 'humanists', who (in my individualist arrogance) just 'don't get it' and are hung up on a variety of granfalloons...
As a humanist, I think of being an American in the same way that I do being a Houstonian. I think of being white in the same way as being pink, red, grey and white (as I am under my skin). I think of being a non-Christian in the same way I think of myself as being a non-Hindu, a non-animist, and a non-Zoroastrian...
In other words, why should I bother with 'having an identity'? Isn't just 'being a human being' enough?
DT Strain adds:
I featured Tom's words here because I share many of his concerns. If Humanism is about anything, it is about being concerned for all of humanity, even a-Humanists. Tom went on to say that he felt only being a part of the Humanist movement is very constraining. I'd also agree. It is my hope that this column at Examiner.com will be my little way of interacting with all of our non-Humanist friends here, discussing the real issues we all care about through a humanistic lens, and simply living as a Humanist rather than being consumed by 'preaching' Humanism or insulting people with other beliefs.