Sherwin Wine at Israeli Ordination Dec. '06

The New Humanism

In April 2007, Sherwin Wine participated in a conference of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy in Cambridge, Massachussets, called “The New Humanism.” In his address, Wine explored the new realities of modern life, the importance of maintaining a connection with one’s family culture, and his own story.

Continue to scroll down for all five parts of the presentation.

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The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins and Militant Atheism

Recorded 2006 by the Center for New Thinking.

A preeminent scientist – and the world’s most prominent atheist – asserts that a belief in God is irrational and that religion is harmful. Richard Dawkins eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He maintains that religion fuels war, ferments bigotry and abuses children. He also asserts that atheism is superior to religion, providing a clearer truer appreciation of the universe’s wonders than any faith could ever muster.

Click HERE to download and listen to this audio lecture.

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The New Atheists

Humanistic Judaism, Autumn 2003/Winter 2004

This is the season for atheism. Three intellectuals have ridden the train of fame to the top of the bestseller list with three atheist books. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett have clearly proclaimed that atheism is the only path for honest, consistent, rational thinkers.

Atheists are usually more discreet. They are reluctant to publicly acknowledge their lack of faith. They often hide behind more ambiguous designations like “agnostic,” “free thinker,” or “skeptic.” They often plead their respect for religion and religious values and express regret for not believing. Atheists are always on the defensive. They never feel really comfortable in a society that places such a high value on religious faith. They never feel really safe in a society that still equates atheism with immorality.

Our three writers are bold and fearless. Two of them, Dawkins and Harris, describe religious belief as ridiculous and without a stitch of evidence. They also denounce the religious penchant to distinguish between scientific truth and religious truth. For them there is only one kind of truth. It is the truth that is supported by the evidence of controlled investigation. Faith and intuition are the beginning of the truth process. They are “hunches” and hypotheses that require future verification. Knowledge demands more than internal conviction. It insists on external evidence. Truth is responsible to fact. Whether one is talking about Bible stories or about transcendent deities, the same criterion applies. Whether one is describing angels or atomic particles, the same test for reality is relevant. Feeling that something is true is never enough.

Dawkins, who is a biological scientist and the world’s most famous science writer, dismisses religion as a useless and often dangerous evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of any underlying psychological propensity which . . . once was useful.” [The God Delusion, p. 65] In other words, religion cannot help us. It may even harm us. It may be the cause of intense hatred and violence.

Jewish Humanist

Humanist Affirmations

The Jewish Humanist, Winter 1975-76

Humanism is a life style. A life style is a way of responding to our own needs and to the needs of other people. It is a way of coping with the continuous demands of our environment and of our society.

Coping needs power. A good life style makes us aware of our power and helps us test it. Self-esteem comes from the successful use of our personal power.

A humanistic life style includes the following personal affirmations of power:

I have power to live with uncertainty.

In most traditional religions certainty is regarded as a virtue. The dogmatic and fanatic believer is preferred to the doubter and to the skeptic. Believing strongly – in spite of the evidence, or believing strongly – in the absence of evidence, is reason for praise.

Humanism finds no virtue in the fanatic believer. The age of science is an age when all statements about the world are open to public testing. If they are true, they are true in a limited way. They depend on the stingy help of limited evidence. They live with the possibility that tomorrow they may be refuted on the basis of new experiences and new discoveries. They accept the fact that they are fallible. They are willing to resign from truth and knowledge when new evidence asks them to. Unlike dogmatic theological statements they are truly humble. They do not have to be true forever and ever.

The true humanist avoids rigid belief. He has strong beliefs, based upon strong evidence, just as he has weak beliefs, based upon weak evidence. But his strong beliefs are not so strong that he cannot alter or replace them. He does not invest his ego in statements of truth. He invests his ego in the skill he possesses to believe with reservation, to be open to new ideas and theories, and to give up what the evidence can no longer sustain. He especially values the skill he has to live with no answer to important questions. If the origins of the universe are unknown, he can live without knowing. The need for answers, the need for certainty is a sickness. Healthy people prefer responsible reason to irresponsible faith.

I have the power to be generous.

Traditional religions speak a lot about sacrifice. Sacrifice is the act of diminishing myself and my possessions, for the sake of others. Sacrifice is giving myself up to the needs of others. It is a form of self-destruction. As a gift, it can only give the giver a strong sense of guilt. Both the traditional Christ figure and the stereotyped Jewish mother are expressions of sacrifice.

Humanists avoid sacrifice. They prefer generosity. The generous person assumes that when he gives to others he does not take away from himself. Since his essential identity is not to be found in the things he owns but lies in his own personal skills, the act of giving is an expression of personal; power – the power to be useful to others. If I am a poet and I give away my poems, I can still write another. If I am a carpenter and I give away my chair, I can still create another.

Generous people are neither anal nor extravagant. They do not insist on receiving equal rewards for services rendered. They do not dispose of their own goods so carelessly that they harm their own survival and the happiness of those who depend on them.

I have the power to be attractive.

Traditional religion prefers humble and reverent people who confront life by denying their own power and by affirming the power of God.

Humanism applauds the humility of living with uncertainty. But it does not commend the humble behavior of prayer and worship.     It may be true that human strength is limited and that human weakness is extensive. But dwelling on helplessness is a lifestyle of despair. It is a loser’s lifestyle. It is transferring the survival technique of infants to adult life. Helplessness is attractive in infants. It is ugly on people over ten – especially if it can be avoided.

Humanists assume that they have the right to win at the game of happiness. They focus in on their weaknesses only long enough to figure out what skills they need. They do not arrange to lose before the game starts by choosing to be pitiable. Only babies and Southern belles have ever won with that technique.

Humanism, in the end, is an aesthetic option. It finds beauty in people who do not choose to whine or complain – but who dare to test their strength against the overwhelming power of a sometimes indifferent universe.

Jewish Humanist

The Humanist Institute

The Jewish Humanist, February 1985

On February 15 we shall be honoring the four members of our congregation who are students of the Humanist Institute.

The Humanist Institute is a new development in the humanistic world which is very important to the welfare and future of the Birmingham Temple.

The Institute is a graduate school for the training of humanist leaders which was established by the North American Committee for Humanism in 1982. The Committee is an international conference of humanist leaders who firmly believe that the growth and development of a humanist constituency in the United States and Canada depends on the training of competent and dynamic spokespeople who will go forth to proclaim the humanist message and to organize humanist communities.

There are seven important humanist organizations in North America today – the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the American Rationalist Association, the Bertrand Russell Society, the Council for a Democratic and Secular Humanism, the Fellowship of Religious Humanists (Unitarian), and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. None of them is strong enough or rich enough to organize a leadership school of its own. Only if they pool their energies and resources is a working school possible.

That cooperation is exactly what began in 1982. Frightened by the assaults of the religious right, the leaders of these seven groups came together in Chicago to establish an institution of higher learning which would provide visibility and training for the humanist world.

Important progress has taken place since then. A home was found for the Institute in the prestigious building of the New ‘fork Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. A distinguished educator, Howard Radest, was chosen as Dean. Our most energetic humanist missionary, Roger Greeley of Kalamazoo, was appointed the Associate Dean in charge of student recruitment, and student placement. Twenty-five students, from different humanist backgrounds and from different parts of the country, were selected to be the first class of the Institute. A graduate curriculum of 90 credits (three full-time years of study) was designed to provide high-quality professional training for the leadership candidates. A part-time faculty of well-known academicians from Columbia, Harvard, State University of New York, University of Michigan and the University of Southern California were recruited as teachers. And a nation-wide fundraising effort was launched to secure the funds that the Institute requires for survival and growth.

Among the 25, students of the first class are four Humanistic Jewish candidates, who want to pursue careers in the world of Humanistic Judaism and who want special training and certification for their future roles as educators and community leaders.

Why is the Institute important to us in the Birmingham Temple?

The Institute is important to us because the ‘future of Humanistic Judaism demands well-trained rabbis, educators and administrators to lead congregations and communities. Without such leaders ‘established congregations cannot be maintained and new communities cannot be created.

The Institute is important to us because, until the Institute came into existence, there was no place where Humanistic rabbis and Jewish educators could be trained. Existing Humanistic rabbis are ‘refugees’ from the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College. Given its commitment to a theistic Judaism, the Hebrew Union College is unwilling to train openly humanistic Jewish leaders who will not provide their talents and energies for Reform enterprises.

The Institute is important to us because it is the first step in providing us with the leadership training we need.

Right now the course work is concerned with general humanism. In the near future a Jewish curriculum will be added to serve the Jewish students. This curriculum will be designed in cooperation with the new Israel Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Jerusalem and with Judaic Studies departments in major secular universities.

The Institute is important to us because we will be able to help design the program we need together with a sympathetic school administration, instead of being the victim of hostile institutions who are indifferent to our welfare and our future.

The Institute is important to us because it will become a visible public academic center where Humanistic Jewish scholars in North America can be motivated to dialogue and to create new essential literature.

The Institute is important to us because now we can recruit young talented people to train for leadership careers in Humanistic Judaism. We no longer have to wait passively for the ‘refugees’ trained by other movements to choose us. We can choose and train our own leaders.