(Bill Van Fleet's)
[Edit (12/14/2014): I have come to realize that there are parts of this presentation that are somewhat misleading, especially if someone is reading just this without the context of understanding all I have written about Humanianity earlier in this book and elsewhere. In my effort to clarify, I am not changing anything originally written, but am including editing remarks to accomplish the clarifications.]
I am a Christian. But what that means here is that I am very religious, and that I come into religion from the Christian tradition.
[Edit (12/14/2014): Most people still think "religious" means something like "theistic." I believe it is more accurate to regard our religions as primarily our adult efforts to study how best to live our lives, i.e., how to be good people, and therefore as our efforts to work on our basic ethical philosophies. That is the meaning I am using here.]
I do consider myself to be Humanian, in that I accept the REUEP as my ultimate ethical principle. Let me restate it:
WE SHOULD DO THAT WHICH WILL PROMOTE NOT ONLY THE SURVIVAL OF OUR SPECIES, BUT ALSO THE GOOD LIFE FOR EVERYONE, NOW AND IN THE FUTURE, "THE GOOD LIFE" MEANING AS MUCH JOY, CONTENTMENT, AND APPRECIATION (JCA) AS POSSIBLE AND AS LITTLE PAIN, SUFFERING, DISABILITY, AND EARLY DEATH (PSDED) AS POSSIBLE.
The fact that I do not believe that there is a sentient superpower that is watching me and possibly altering events for me, or that I am due for an afterlife, pleasant or unpleasant, does not make me less religious and/or less prone to see the goodness in Christianity or any of the religions. And being of Christian tradition, I look to Christianity for the language, metaphors, and principles that will help me to understand and to work toward achieving the goals of my religion. And since I believe any of our religions can improve, my effort is to use the very best of Christianity and to leave behind those aspects that, to me, are outdated and inconsistent with the REUEP.
[Edit (12/14/2014): The second sentence above should state, instead, "And being of Christian tradition, I look at Christianity for the language, metaphors, and principles that will help me to clarify what I believe to be potential underlying Humanian conceptualizations within Christianity."]
So what do I consider the central focus of Humanian Christianity? It would be the focus on what Jesus was advocating.
Of course, some have doubted that he even existed, and there has been controversy about who he was and what he said and did. Well, I don't choose to base my life on the necessity for things to have been a certain way, when there is lack of certainty about those things. If I did, I would either have to wait for something to be proven, or I would have to have a thoroughly closed mind lest something come along to disconfirm that upon which I have based and am basing my whole life. So I try to base my religious ideas on what we have evidence for, always with the openness of mind that seeks to examine, revise, and extend my thinking in ways that appear to be consistent with the rules of logic and the rules of evidence.
The evidence seems to be that there was a historical Jesus, there being varying degrees of agreement about various details of his existence. It seems fairly certain that he tried to improve things, ran into trouble because he didn't go along with the powers that were, and was tortured and killed according to the custom of the time. And sometime after the historical Jesus died on the cross, the mythical Jesus arose, and has been with us Christians ever since. The mythical Jesus is the Jesus we know, because it is what our concept of him is. That is all we can ever have, but it is a wonderful organizing principle for our lives, I would maintain.
[Edit (1/31/2016): The above statement about the evidence for a historical Jesus, I realize, is actually quite uncertain and significantly doubted by some. However, I believe the reader will be able to see that what follows is not dependent upon there having been an historical Jesus.]
And who is the mythical Jesus? It is that person who indeed knows all the right answers, the specific answers, as to what we should do. Therefore, within Humanianity, all of those answers would have to be consistent with the REUEP. So the more we follow Jesus, that is, do what Jesus would have us do, the more we are behaving consistently with the REUEP, by definition. So our effort to study and understand the mythical Jesus is our effort to understand how to implement the REUEP.
And in studying, we Humanians look at what others have concluded and compare those ideas with our own, always with the effort to improve our own understanding as to how to implement the REUEP. In fact, we look at all religious, including all ethical literature (that from our own tradition and that from other traditions), always comparing and contrasting, and making the effort to see what is and is not consistent with the REUEP. This I believe is what the mythical Jesus would have us do, because this would most promote our ethical growth (improvement), and therefore our ability to live according to the REUEP.
Thus, my approach to any religious literature is that it is a stimulus for further thought, discussion, and elaboration, just as this book is. For a Humanian, there is no requirement to believe, as an act of obedience, anything written or spoken. All ideas, including any in this book, should be open for discussion and friendly debate, because that is what most promotes increasing wisdom (increasingly accurate existential beliefs, about the way the world is, was, or will be), and thus increasing ability to act consistently with the REUEP. My understanding of the mythical Jesus is that he advocated figuring things out rather than just believing as an act of obedience.
But success in implementing the REUEP requires more than just having accurate beliefs about what the right thing to do is. We also have to want to do those things. We have to love doing those things. We have to love the mythical Jesus, and to strive to be as much like him as possible. We have to take the mythical Jesus into our hearts, to use metaphoric Christian language. And in doing so we are filled, to varying degrees, with the "Holy Spirit," the motivation to do right, the feeling of joy that one gets when one does what one believes to be the right thing to do.
"Holy" means to me "good" and "right" and "best" and "ultimate." "Spirit" in this context means to me "enthusiasm" and "energy" and "will" and "eagerness," as would be observed in "a spirited discussion." So the Holy Spirit is, for a Humanian Christian, the wish, the desire, the eagerness, to do that which is consistent with the REUEP.
We are imperfect. There is room for improvement. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, having the motivation to do the right thing, promotes our doing the right thing. The Holy Spirit increases the odds that we will improve and be even more able to do that which is consistent with the REUEP. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit to varying degrees. And the more filled we are with the Holy Spirit, the more we want to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
So understanding the mythical Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, means having accurate ideas about what the right things to do are and wanting strongly to do them. The combination of these two things is what I mean by "loving (the mythical) Jesus." When we metaphorically let Jesus into our hearts, we are filling ourselves with more of the Holy Spirit--the wish, the determination, to figure out what the right thing is to do, and to make ourselves do it, even though for other reasons we might want to do other things.
So my awareness of how Jesus tried to make the world a better place for everyone, then and in the future, and even gave his life for everyone, then and in the future, makes me aware of how he gave his life for me. He is not the only one who has done so. Many have done so. So the mythical Jesus that personifies the ultimate effort at trying to make the world a better place for everyone is an entity that has existed in many all over this world, and throughout time, and even exists to some extent in everyone--but just not enough. The mythical Jesus is our way of becoming aware of, more intensely, the possibility of improvement, of working toward increasingly fulfilling the REUEP.
So Jesus tried to improve the religion of his time. And he was heretical. And he was killed for it. Heresy, I understand, is the refusal to believe as an act of obedience. If you will be one of us, you will believe as we do. Otherwise, you are to be at best tolerated, or perhaps ignored, or avoided, or punished, or killed. I cannot conclude other than that the phenomenon of heresy is antithetical to the REUEP.
The concept of heresy is indeed consistent with the ultimate ethical principle which we much, much more tend to go by, that says that we should do whatever X wants us to do, X being whoever or whatever is most powerful. It is that we should obey the most powerful. (I call this the "authoritarian-ethical ultimate ethical principle.") And if the most powerful says to believe that the most powerful is right, and that contenders are evil, then that's what we should do. And all over the globe we try to do that, and we seek out heresy and behave appropriately. That's what we did to Jesus, and that's what we do to each other. And sometimes we call it revenge. And sometimes we call it punishment. And sometimes we call it "justice," the fair distribution of punishment and revenge. (Of course justice also refers to the fair distribution of resources, making the concept, for me, one that contains good and bad elements.) And sometimes we just avoid, look down upon, berate, ridicule, discriminate against, and refuse to care about those who believe differently. And sometimes we torture and kill them.
Well, my mythical Jesus tells me that I should behave well toward everyone, even those who do not behave well toward me. He tells me that I should try to see the good in everyone, even if there is a lot of bad there also, and to make that effort the predominant factor in my relating to everyone. He tells me that I should attempt to be understanding, not judgmental. He tells me I should try to understand anger (which tends to motivate behavior that causes PSDED) in such a way as to avoid having it and to avoid causing it, as much as is consistent with the REUEP. And he tells me that I should try to understand and treat well and fairly individuals from other social strata, economic situations, religious or philosophical orientations, sexual orientations, races, or cultures.
Of course to allow myself to be taken advantage of or mistreated, or to recommend that people who are prone to do things that cause PSDED go unsupervised, would be against the REUEP. But for me to protect myself or for us to protect ourselves does not imply retaliation (punishment or revenge). We can "love" (treat well) our enemies without thereby becoming their victims. And by loving our enemies, we can set the model for others to do so, and thereby spread the Holy Spirit, as Jesus apparently tried to do.
So, what about social institutions? Just as there is a tendency to see individuals as either good or bad, we also tend to see social institutions as either good or bad. But what makes more sense to me is that institutions are what our species has come up with to help us to survive and have the good life, and that because we are far from our goal of perfection, it is not surprising to find that there is both good and bad in most any of our social institutions. There is good in dictatorship. But there is more good in democracy. There is bad in dictatorship. But there is less bad in democracy. So dictatorship can be improved, but so can democracy. And so can our institution of marriage. And so can Christianity. We need the Holy Spirit in our approach to all institutions, including our religious ones. And we need to work together to improve all of our institutions, including our religions, insofar as possible, in the name of our mythical Jesus, or in the name of any other entity standing for or symbolizing improvement according to the REUEP.
You may ask me, "Do you believe in God?" Or you may ask me, "Do you believe God exists?" (These are perhaps two slightly different questions.) Well, before those questions can be answered, the terms need to be defined.
At the very beginning of this document, I already partially answered the questions, and for some I answered them completely, because their meaning of "God" indeed is "a sentient superpower that is watching me and possibly altering events for me." I have already said that I do not believe that. But we know that there are various other definitions of "God." So is there a definition consistent with my Christianity?
Definitions of "God" almost always involve the concept of "ultimate."
An example would be the idea that God is the ultimate cause of everything. There are problems inherent in this idea, that are well known. Our concept of "cause" is complex, and much has been written about it. I am trying to keep everything simple, so I will say that when people say that God is the cause of everything, they are trying to "explain" something. But when we explain something, the usual process is to say that X (whatever it is that we are trying to explain, for instance, something that has happened) is an example of Y (a more general statement about the way the world operates). The explanation of this object falling is that it is an example of the way all matter tends to attract other matter to it, etc. Let's leave aside whether the example of explanation that I have used involves an accurate understanding of gravity, etc. The point is that all of our explanations involve the use of a model (such as Y), from which, if the model is accurate, X can be deduced and therefore predicted. So my explanation of X having happened is that it could have been predicted to happen using model Y. Of course, if you don't agree that model Y is accurate, then you will consider me not to have explained X adequately.
Now our species has learned to use the rules of logic and the rules of evidence to such an extent that we have been able to construct absolutely amazingly accurate models of the way the world really is, i.e., our science and technology. But that is all that science does, namely, construct models. If the model is accurate, then predictions using it will be accurate, and what we anticipate happening when we do something will turn out indeed to be what happens. But notice that one can then ask what the explanation of that model is. In other words, "Yes, things do happen as described according to that model, but why?" So to answer that question, one needs an even more general or "higher level" model.
So "God" cannot be the explanation of everything, because it can't explain "God." We can never get to an ultimate explanation of everything, because we would then have to explain why that was the explanation for everything and it would therefore not be ultimate. This is understood by everyone as the question, "If God created everything, who created God?"
Leaving "God" out for a moment, we can say that science is not going to be able to answer the ultimate question, "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?" And if we try to put "God" back in by saying that God created everything, then we are right back to asking, "Why?" and "How?"
So I can't explain why there is something rather than nothing at all, nor, if we ever create a model that is completely consistent with everything that we observe happening, can I explain why that model is the one that is consistent with the way everything is, rather than some other model that I could perhaps think up. All I can do is appreciate that there is something rather than nothing at all and that it is the way it is rather than different (different such that I would not be able to have had this life that I am living). And what is intense appreciation? We have other words that mean to most people approximately the same thing. If I intensely appreciate something, I could label that as "worshipping" it. So I worship the fact that there is something rather than nothing, and that it is the way it is. If I were to say that I worship the reason that there is something rather than nothing at all and that it is the way that it is, I would have to mean something different by "the reason" than "the explanation." I could refer to "the reason" as "the great mystery," and thereby come close to meaning the same thing. I could call everything a "creation," but this would not be in the explanatory sense. If I were to use the term "all creation" to refer to all that is, I could not be implying a "creator" as an explanation for the "creation."
So, if our meaning of "God" includes the requirement that the concept is supposed to explain something, then the closest we can come to that meaning would be "the great unsolvable mystery as to why there is something rather than nothing at all, and that it is the way it is rather than some other way." And I can worship that mystery, that is, intensely appreciate it. But that's about all I can do with it. And for me, that's enough.
But perhaps we can make our word "God" mean something else in addition, or as an alternative.
Rather than regarding the word as a label for a particular kind or instance of explanation, since people say that they worship God, we could focus on the concept of "worship." I have already written above a kind of meaning of the word "worship," saying that it can be considered intense appreciation. By appreciation, I mean a very good feeling (joy) that I get when I think about something having happened the way it did or something being the way it is.
Now if I were to believe that whatever happened, or whatever the situation is, was something that was brought about by someone who did it for me, then my appreciation could be called "gratitude." So I can appreciate a sunset. If I were to believe that it had been designed just for me, or even for a group of people including me, then I would be grateful.
On the other hand, just as I can imagine most anything (possible, probable, improbable, or impossible), I can imagine myself appreciating the sunset, or all that I have, or anything that contributes to the goodness of my life, or other's lives, and while so appreciating, imagine it having been designed for me, and others, as a gift, given by an entity that goes beyond explanation. In this way, I could be said to be grateful to God for what I was appreciating. But I would really know that this was not a gift, designed for me by an actual knowable entity. This act of imagination would be carried out to enhance the intensity of the experience of appreciation. I would only be imagining that this portion of existence had been designed for me (and perhaps others), not believing it. (I could call it "pseudobelief.")
Well, I actually (pseudo-)believe that the portion of all existence that was presumably designed for me is infinitesimal. So I can appreciate all existence, while not especially being grateful for it. But there is indeed something I can be grateful for, having to do with the fact that I am living and can appreciate things. There is something that has indeed been designed for me and for others, namely, all those things that were done or created by those who have gone before me or us and have put forth effort in my or our behalf, that is, have tried to make the world a better place for people, perhaps including me.
Is that beginning to sound familiar? If someone tries to do that which will promote not only the survival of our species but also the good life, for everyone, now and in the future, is that someone to whom I should be grateful? So should I not indeed be grateful for whenever anyone has acted in a way consistent with the REUEP? And since people are more likely to act in a way consistent with the REUEP if they know about it, and try to behave consistently with it, then should I not be grateful to them for doing so? My metaphoric way of referring to trying to know about and understand what ways of behavior are consistent with the REUEP has been to refer to it as coming to know the mythical Jesus. And my metaphoric way of referring to wanting to behave in a manner consistent with the REUEP is to refer to it as having the Holy Spirit. So I am grateful to those who want to know (the mythical) Jesus and who have the Holy Spirit, even if they do not think in those Christian terms and do not come from a Christian tradition.
As children, we look to our parents as the ultimate. They know everything, including what is right. And we appreciate them and are grateful to them. We worship them. (Of course we do so only part of the time.) But it is not long before we find out that our parents are not the ultimate. We see their imperfections. And we want to understand more and do better. And so from the beginning of our species, we have looked beyond our parents and ourselves, speculating as to the answers. And those answers as to what is ultimate have been our "gods."
And of course our gods have looked much like parents, or at least extremely powerful beings, and they have tended to have the characteristics of our parents, those characteristics being both good and bad. And as we have become more able to attempt to implement the REUEP, by virtue of our science and technology, and especially the understanding of ourselves, we have looked increasingly toward the ultimate good. Our gods have tended more to have good, positive traits, rather than the kind of traits that foster child sacrifice, discrimination, slavery, murder, and ethnic cleansing. And this progression can be seen within the Christian tradition. And it is good.
So for me "God" has three components.
First, there is the intense appreciation that there is something rather than nothing, and that it is the way it is rather than different (so that I have this chance to live). This is the great mystery, the ultimate inability to understand that which I am most grateful for. It is an extension of what I felt toward my parents at the beginning of my life. It is how I felt toward my father and my mother.
Second, there is the intense appreciation of the possibility of learning how this world works (now best done through our science and technology), and therefore how to do those things that will promote not only our survival but also the good life for everyone, now and in the future (REUEP). It is the awareness that I can learn from my parents, and teachers, and others who have gone ahead of me and are passing along their contributions to wisdom just as I am trying to do. It is how I have felt as a child learning from my parents, and later from all the world.
Third, there is the intense wish to learn from others what is right (that which will promote the REUEP), the wish to implement that knowledge in my own life and to contribute that knowledge to others, and the joy in the awareness that I am indeed being successful. It is what makes me feel and be "spirited" in my wish to do "good."
Needless to say, I have been giving a sort of tripartite picture of "God," the set of "ultimates" in my life. This way of conceptualizing or speaking about "God" is certainly not the only way, and it is not necessary in order for me to want to do good and to do it successfully. And it comes from my own religious tradition, which is not the only religious tradition. But it is my way of understanding how Christians can indeed be Humanians, and how Christianity is on the road to Humanianity, as are the other religious traditions also.
There are other aspects of the Christian tradition that are consistent with the REUEP.
From what I said at the beginning, it may be evident that I do not "believe in the power of prayer," in the sense usually meant. And those that do sometimes experience discomfort with the idea that there is a sentient superpower that makes or allows bad things to happen to good people, but might not do so if enough of us prayed enough. But I believe in the power of prayer in another sense, namely, for the effect that it has on the one praying, because the act of doing so is that of practicing caring, of wanting the best for everyone if indeed that is what the individual is praying for. Many do indeed have the belief that they are intervening on the behalf of others and are thereby making the world a better place, by virtue of the actual effectiveness of prayer. But even for those that don't have such beliefs, the spending of that effort in wishing others well, or in wishing for good things in general, should be good exercise of those mental processes that will contribute to strengthening the Holy Spirit in the individual, the wish to behave consistently with the REUEP. And when we pray in groups, we enhance our solidarity as a group with the group code being the REUEP, just the opposite of our getting together as groups in order to attack, lynch, wild, desecrate, ruin, and kill.
The mythical Jesus has spoken of the kingdom of God. Some say he pointed out that the kingdom is potentially right here on Earth. We just have to make it happen. That time, to me, would be when we globally all had maximal knowledge of what the mythical Jesus stands for and were maximally filled with the Holy Spirit, whether understood with those metaphors or not.
I do indeed see us on this planet trying to learn how to behave more consistently with the REUEP, and making a little bit of progress. However, we need to do much, much more before we are anywhere near our potential. That achieving such a change in ourselves is possible is borne out by noticing that whereas some individuals do much that is the opposite of what would be consistent with the REUEP, others spend their lives in ways quite consistent with it. If we can just come to understand what makes such a difference, and then work toward changing our ways of interacting with one another and our ways of creating adults out of our children into ways that work the very best, we surely can come much closer to that ideal of complete consistency with the REUEP. And it will be our rules of logic and rules of evidence, that is, science, helping us to understand ourselves accurately, that will enable us at long last to make such progress.
So if we use the term "Heaven" as our current concept or fantasy of what it would be like to live, all over this globe, in ways 100% consistent with the REUEP, then we could all strive and pray for the time when it will be on Earth as it is in Heaven.
We are all born with our basic animal nature. But through our child rearing, education, interaction with others, study, friendly debate, and promotion of ethical thought through our religious institutions and individual activities, we modify this basic animal nature to some extent, meaning that we learn what works better than what comes naturally, and we make ourselves do what works better. And by "works better," I, as a Humanian, mean "promotes the REUEP."
Christians sometimes refer to "Satan." From all that I have written so far, I think you might accept that concept as referring to the tendency we all have to fool ourselves and think that we are doing the right thing when in fact we are doing something that will promote PSDED. Thus, the concept should have the implication that we should always be on guard against our tendency to have a closed mind, even though, because Satan is clever, the concept has often been used to do just the opposite!
Let's go back to the "historical Jesus." I believe that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. How much, I do not know, and there is no way of knowing. I do believe that he tried to improve things and got tortured and killed for his efforts. I can have great sympathy for him, and much gratitude for his effort. And what happened to him was a tragedy. And I certainly do not want his tragic death to have been in vain. And so I am pleased to see that the mythical Jesus is still with us. The historical Jesus made a difference.
[Edit (1/31/2016): Please note again that I have subsequently learned that there is actually substantial doubt on the part of some scholars regarding Jesus having actually existed, but that that does not affect this message. Certainly, people who have tried to make things better and have been made to suffer, or have even been killed, have existed, and we can feel the same way about them as many of us have felt about what happened to the historical Jesus, if he did exist.]
But the way that I have defined the Holy Spirit is such that it existed before the historical Jesus, just as it still exists today. Throughout the history of our species, there have been those who have tried to make the world a better place for others within their spheres of influence, just as is true today. So the Holy Spirit has always existed throughout our history, and the historical Jesus most likely had much of the Holy Spirit. But we need to recognize that Jesus is not the only one who has died or otherwise made major sacrifices for us, by trying to help us to be better (to behave consistently with the REUEP), so we should be grateful for all who have sacrificed themselves for the Holy Spirit. And we have said that probably everyone has had the Holy Spirit to some extent, so we need to be grateful for everyone's effort to make the world a better place for others.
For me, having a relationship with the mythical Jesus means connecting to others in an effort to make the world a better place. It is the good in myself reaching out to, making contact with, and receiving recognition and appreciation from the good in others. It means the Holy Spirit in myself making contact with the Holy Spirit in others. It means working with others to implement the REUEP.
If I were to spend energy on excluding my concern for others just to think about Jesus, I don't believe I would be acting according to the Holy Spirit, nor do I think the historical Jesus would have thought so. And obviously, torturing and killing in the name of Jesus would be inconsistent with the REUEP. But I believe discriminating against those that are motivated by the Holy Spirit, meaning are trying to make the world a better place, but are doing so with metaphors that are non-Christian, would be inconsistent with the REUEP, and surely the historical Jesus would have thought so also. So those of us who are Christian should study and learn about other traditions and join non-Christians in efforts to achieve consistency with the REUEP.
So I return to my explanation of my Christianity as being only my tradition. I have no belief that another tradition would necessarily be less valuable, less good, less consistent with the REUEP. I would have to see whether that tradition was indeed motivating people to do that which not only promoted the survival of our species, but also the good life for everyone, now and in the future. But I would imagine that all traditions are imperfect, and can be improved, including my Christianity. And I wish to do my part.
In behalf of that, I have written a textbook, available free to everyone at HomoRationalis.com, that specifically clarifies how every individual can participate in the effort to improve life on this planet. It is not a political book. It does not advocate belief as an act of obedience. It does not contain pseudoscience. It requires no special expertise or technical background. Though it is a religious book, it uses no specific religious tradition for its concepts or terminology. It is written for everyone. It covers in the most basic way possible how we can achieve a far better existence on this planet, by understanding how to implement the REUEP. The title of the book is:
For Everyone: Rational-Ethical Living and the Emergence of "Homo Rationalis": The Most Important Book
And whether the book lives up to its title awaits the book being read and evaluated.