Quaker Universalist Conversations

More on humanism and universalism

The April 7 thDo humanism and universalism differ? blog post drew a number of interesting comments. The post itself was a response to “The Interior Life and the Universal,” a 1984 article by Lorna M. Marsden which was reprinted in 2007 in Universalism and Religions: Quaker Universalist Reader Number 2.

Marsden had voiced concern about some aspects of humanism:

She is not opposed to humanism per se, yet she mistrusts the sort of secularism which attempts to define the Real solely in terms of what can be contained by human reason…. [She] warns us of the loss of the “dimension of meaning” when we limit what we believe we can know to the rationality of the ideologically secular.

In response to the April 7 th post, Lyn Cope wrote: “[How] one lives one’s life, walks the walk, is the real definition of intent. Humanism works as long as it does not deny the spirit. Universalist spirit works as long as it does no harm to the physical.”

Joanne Herrmann added this comment: “Modern thought eschews the dichotomy of the spiritual and the physical, contending that they are an integrated whole. In that sense, universalism and humanism would work best when seen as inseparable parts of the human experience and understanding.”

Finally, A.C. Doty offered the following by email in response to the April 7 th queries (reprinted by permission):

In what ways does humanism embrace and uplift truths which can be expressed only through art and religion?

Humanism is not limited to the scientific paradigm. Most of civilization is embodied in works of art (broadly defined) and philosophy (including religion). Literature, especially poetry, exposes truth in ways that the scientific paradigm cannot. Human witness, however expressed, is distinct from the scientific method.

How does this differ from the sorts of secularism (such as the so-called “new atheism”) which deny that symbol, image and myth refer to or inform humankind about anything real?

Secularism is largely a reaction (often an over-reaction) to superstition. It is difficult to appreciate, from the luxurious perspective of the present, how damaging was superstition at the time of the advent of the age of reason. Nevertheless, like all reformations, secularism has been overdone and has fed thoughtlessly aggressive thinking such as that which characterizes new atheism.

What differing traits are there which might separate humanism at its best from Quaker universalism?

Quaker universalism acknowledges the presence of the divine in each practitioner. To a great extent, the discovery of this divinity is the object of humanism (as opposed to secularism). The differing trait of the former is the deliberate practice of seeking access to the divine through community and communion and the democratic practice of holding each other morally accountable for our deeds.


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