I found this Platform Address to be very moving, and motivating. I appreciated James’s honesty about how tiny the organized Ethical Humanism movement is, and even the larger organized humanist movement. At the same time, I think it’s helpful (at least it’s helpful to me) to realize that humanist values, beliefs, and practices are widespread and growing in America and the world. The situation of Ethical Humanism is very different from that of a lot of religions in this way. For instance, it’s unlikely that someone who had never heard of Christianity or belonged to a Christian church would somehow on their own come up with the story of Jesus or spontaneously create the ritual of communion. In the case of Ethical Humanism, though, there are many millions of people who currently share the worldview, values, and even basic practices of Ethical Humanists without ever having heard of an Ethical Society, let alone having belonged to one.
So why aren’t there more, and bigger, Ethical Societies? I think this has more to do with culture and habit than beliefs. Every year, a smaller percentage of the population belongs to any organized community. And if you don’t have to be a member of an Ethical Society to be a “good, practicing” ethical humanist, why get up and go somewhere on Sundays, why commit and pledge to an organization at all?
This question brings me back to James’s talk, and his answer of how we make a difference, and how we make “bearable and meaningful” the fact of our smallness in the vastness of space and time: Community, connection, solidarity, friendship, love. More and more people seem to be rejecting “organized” anything, rejecting making significant commitments of time and resources to communities and congregations. At the same time, many people are feeling more alienated, more lonely, and more anxious, and many feel a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives.
Humans find and create meaning and purpose together—by being together, learning from each other, challenging each other, working together on projects that promote shared values, eating and having fun together. Committing to be in community with others is an act of mutual trust, hope, and, yes, even a kind of love. We feel this collective love when we are in an intimate small group where we can safely share our personal thoughts and feelings, and when we are in a huge public march advocating for shared goals. We feel this love when we know we can rely on our community to help us when we are in need, and when we actively support others in need.
I hope that more people will not continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Like many, I rejected the supernatural stories I learned as a child and the rituals that had no meaning for me. But I’m so glad I found that I could still have mutually supportive community and shared purpose—being a member of an Ethical Society brings meaning and joy to my life. That’s also why I chose to work as a Leader, and to try to let more people know about Ethical Humanism. And it’s why I have hope that our tiny movement will grow. But even if it doesn’t, that wouldn’t take away from all that this Ethical Society has provided for over 100 years, and all it continues to provide for its members and the wider community. And whether or not Ethical Humanism as a denomination grows, I am confident that the wider wave of humanism we are a part of will grow and evolve, as humanity continues to learn to love and care for all the members of the human family and all the life on our small planet.