About

PART ONE: OUR STORY

First ingredient: Distinctions. What is the core and essence of being human? What is contentment, or kindliness, or Love? What is gentleness, or service, or enthusiasm, or courage? If you follow the links, you see at a glance what these concepts mean.

From infancy, human beings learn by making distinctions: for example, a baby learns the distinction of soft versus hard by manipulating objects such as a cloth doll and a wooden block. There is no precise definition of “soft” or “hard” but the baby learns that striking the wooden block against the head hurts, while striking with the cloth doll does not. Similarly, distinctions such as Justice, unity and Faith do not lend themselves to precise definitions such as the specific gravity of a liquid but we can tell the difference between Justice and injustice, unity and disunity, Faith and crippling despair.

Second ingredient: The religious quest. People seek to explain the world and figure out how to make our way within it. This is true of practically everyone: the baby discovering new objects, the scientist trying to find a cure for cancer and the parents struggling to earn enough income to support a family. As creatures with a capacity for imagination and abstract thought, we seek to answer questions large and small, immediate and remote. “Who are we, why are we here, where did we come from, where are we going?”

We are story tellers. We are inclined to be uncomfortable with uncertainty. So primitive peoples devised explanations for such natural phenomena as thunder: the gods were angry, after all with thunder came lightning, hard rain and violent winds. Out of this amalgamation of curiosity, wonder and the practical need to know came the religions. On this site “religion” and “religious” are defined in their broad historical context: as an attempt to bring all things together into a coherent whole. The religious quest is an attempt to know the truth and to act in fidelity with it.

Today, we know answers to questions at which our ancestors could only guess. Out of this, a religion informed by science and knowledge can emerge. This new religion need not rely on myth, superstition or supernaturalism for its fact claims. Though it must recognize the importance of rules and laws, which are necessary to a just society among self-interested people, it need not construct a set of rigid dogmas. Instead, the new religion can be an invitation to treat life as an exploration, a journey and a joyous venture. We can now ask: “Who and what are we, where did we come from, how can we lead lives of meaning and purpose, what can we leave behind?”

The product. This Is Our Story is an attempt to offer a systematic account of the human story – an account told through the lens of our values, desires, dreams and hopes – and to bring the elements of our story together to construct a systematic and religious Humanism. As much as possible, this site reflects life. For that reason, it is focused on narratives and art: they teach by example.

This is in keeping with how we live and learn. We live for many years before we formally construct a life philosophy. We learn to speak long before we can explain grammar and syntax. Men constructed buildings long before they understood formal architecture. A lesson discovered through experience is more enduring than one learned from a book. A quotation often attributed to Francis of Assisi illustrates the point: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” So this site tells our story through real and fictional narratives and film, poetry, music, visual arts and photography. It also offers technical and analytical readings, and a framework for analyzing human life and values. We will discuss those in Part Two, below.

You might ask what materials fit within the Humanist narrative. Everything does. Every true and fictional story, every work of art, every technical writing says something about the human condition, sometimes by counterexample but often by example worth emulating. A few years ago, a sports channel ran an advertisement showing images of great sports legends as the announcer said something like this: “Remember all those stories about how no one ever did it with more power or more speed or more grace or more courage? They’re all true.” I have designed this site to draw a scrupulous distinction between the real and the imaginary but Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is as powerful as any true story. It is true to our sense of values. Our art, music, poetry and literature speak from our desires and values, and thus are essential parts of our story.

If you are new to this site, you may wish to begin by exploring values that particularly interest you. Here are a few suggestions:

As you explore some of these topics and view their related links, the ideas behind the words should become clear, sometimes through explanation but more often through example. Many of the topics do not readily lend themselves to detailed analysis. That is why narratives are so important, so powerful and so enduring.

If you have ideas for additions or corrections, please post a message on the topic. This project is nowhere near complete, and may never be complete. Our human narrative is constantly expanding, as is our understanding of it.

A project like this would not have been possible a generation ago. The internet has opened the world. We have the world’s greatest art, literature and technical writings at our fingertips. If you spent all your waking hours studying the materials directly available to you through this site, you could not complete your study in a lifetime. Our story is more than anyone can read in a lifetime. The theistic religions say that God is ineffable. Life is ineffable. Our story is ineffable. No one can fully grasp it or put it into words but we can make enough sense out of this curious mega-phenomenon we call reality to live joyfully, meaningfully, purposefully and well; and in generous service to others.

PART TWO: ANALYSIS

This site would be incomplete without an analytical framework. After you have digested a few of the examples, feel free to explore the ideas behind the model. I would be remiss if I did not give credit to my inspiration for this work: the Human Faith Project of Calvin Chatlos, M.D. His demonstration of a model for Human Faith began my exploration of this subject matter.

In the years since I participated in that project, I have expanded on Calvin’s work. Key to this expansion has been a recognition that ethics and religion cannot adequately be explained in a single plane of analysis. A primary reason why people often talk past each other on these subjects is that they fail to recognize that they are referencing different things. Consider as an example the distinction we call Love. As with many values, Love can be defined by its direction of impetus (its quality of harmony) and by the degree of its force (its power). I define Love as an intense emotional harmony with the loved one’s welfare, so that if our loved one is happy, we are happy and if our loved one is suffering, we suffer. Sometimes people argue whether Love’s opposite is hatred or indifference, or perhaps fear. They disagree because they are referencing different aspects of the same thing. Seen as an intense emotion, Love’s opposite is indifference; seen as an emotion in harmony with the loved one’s welfare, Love’s opposite is hatred; seen as an experience, Love’s opposite is fear. Once we understand this, we have no reason to have these arguments any more – ever.

Life is not one-dimensional. This seems like an obvious point but often we overlook it. Life is like a multi-faceted diamond: a discrete object for practical purposes but one that we can admire from many different angles, and in so doing draw something special and unique from each perspective. Once we recognize this, and identify the facets of our diamond-of-life, we can better understand human values, and construct an enduring religion based on a commitment to the worth and dignity of all people. So this site presents the dimensions of ethics, spirituality and religion, as outlined below. Open the links below for fuller explanations of each dimension.

DAILY VALUE: a liturgical calendar, of sorts

OUR RELATIONSHIPS, which include our relationships with:

The DOMAINS of BEING and their OFFSHOOTS. See the pages for:

POWER – HARMONY. See the pages for:

DEVELOPMENTAL LEVEL. See the pages for:

INTERNAL – EXTERNAL as personal experience

SPACE and TIME

STATIC – DYNAMIC

SCOPE

TANGIBLE – SYMBOLIC

WORTH – VALUE

This site is an invitation to participate. I look forward to your comments and suggestions, which I will incorporate into this project, and to developing a systematic, life-affirming Humanism together.

One Comment to About

  1. Terry Gannon
    September 9, 2013 12:03 am

    Thank you for this website.
    I’ve come to UU as MY religion late in life and have thus been exploring for several years. I follow the discussions to some extent on the humansits site, but have found the need for greater direction.

    I think your website will help . Thank you again.

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