My college adviser, one of the nicest, wittiest, most intelligent guys I’ve ever met, was a humanist. I didn’t know what a humanist was. Ignorance suggested it was some sort of religion. As an agnostic, I didn’t care.
One day in church, while still a teenager, I choked on “I believe,” the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed. I didn’t believe. I didn’t disbelieve either. But I understood that if God existed, he’d know I was lying, and lying was wrong. Whatever faith I’d had faltered in my uncertainty.
Doug Call’s column “The humanist’s quest for meaningfulness” (Daily News, June 2) resurrected memories of my decadelong agnosticism. He encapsulates a humanist’s view: “The trick to life is figuring out what is truly meaningful; the motivation in the end is living a meaningful life because we only have one such existence.”
He further observes, “one could have a very unhappy life but be satisfied with having a very meaningful life.” Another could have “a happy and hedonistic life, but never do anything meaningful.” For a humanist “that would be tragic.”
Yet Call recognizes that he and his evangelical neighbor share many values: “love of family, friends and community, and pursuit of knowledge, music, art, teaching and creativity.” He concludes, “despite our very different world views, we are probably more alike than different.”
His comments recall John Donne’s meditation: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent ... .” As such, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
I’ve always loved those words because, even though Donne was a dean in the Anglican Church, they seem to reflect the best of humanism: humankind’s oneness. The highest ideals governing human behavior are based on love. They can be found throughout religions. Might humanism actually be a secular religion?
Religion, like science, changes as social imperatives change and knowledge advances. Core understanding remains, but changing circumstances require ever-changing outlooks. A bedrock of religion is the Golden Rule; in science, it’s gravity.
As an agnostic, I would have agreed with much of Call’s logic, but 65 years ago my outlook began to change. My college roommate, Dave, was a Baha’i. I’d never heard of the Baha’i Faith. When he explained that all religions came from the same God, it sounded reasonable, but by then I wanted nothing to do with religion. I thanked him and stayed the agnostic course.
After graduation I fell in love and asked Dave to be best man at my wedding. On the eve of the wedding, figuring it was time to clean up my act, I asked Dave to send me some Baha’i literature. He did. I read it but resisted. For four years I studied, questioned and tiptoed around the periphery. Finally, 56 years ago yesterday, I shed agnosticism’s chitin and adopted the Baha’i Faith. I’ve never looked back. Questions still exist for which I’ll never know answers, but I believe in the integrity of the system.
This faith is the fulfillment of promises made throughout religious history. It’s destined to unite the world. Religion, like science, is progressive. Throughout millennia, different cultures in different places have experienced religious revelation. Both history and scripture reveal unifying threads of a common impetus advancing civilization: God is one and humankind is one. We need to recognize that and start behaving as if it’s true. Because it is.
Baha’u’llah explains that every age has its own problems; yesterday’s remedies won’t resolve today’s issues. He writes: “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
For 400 years, Francis Bacon’s “scientific method” has opened our eyes to the mysteries of the material world and far beyond. We track the stars and planets precisely, but we still don’t know what the mysterious attractive force is that we call “gravity.” Might it be love? That’s really what makes the world go ’round.