Category Archives: Humanism

On Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump

On Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump

I Fear Progressives Are Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump. We have been outraged by his positions, and frightened by the support he has received. And that is understandable. So we have focused our attention and mobilized our supporters in opposition, as if his success would be the worst thing that could happen to this country. And, in our determination and narrow-minded focus, I fear we have lost sight of the bigger picture, and the far more serious threats that are being hidden behind the Trump phenomenon.

No question that Trump’s policies, such as one can make them out, are real threats to the humanistic and progressive values we cherish. And there can be little remaining doubt about his significant character failures. But the fact remains, that his positions, bad as they are, are not nearly as bad as those of all of the other establishment Republicans who rightly feel threatened by his ascendency.

The so-called Conservative establishment is a systematic and organized attack on LBJ’s Great Society and FDR’s New Deal, and even on much of the best from the Progressive Era. And our exclusive attention to Trump has led many to feel that even Ted Cruz — who is the closest thing we have in current mainstream politics to a Fascist — is preferable to Trump. That, for example, was precisely the position that Bill Maher expounded this past Friday. And even the “progressive” media seems to be falling for the same line. Meanwhile, much of the mainstream of the Radical Right, such as The National Review, know that Trump is no “card-carrying” member of that mainstream. (He doesn’t even call for the destruction of Social Security.)

And while we, and the mainstream media, are transfixed by the Trump phenomena, and many are even tending to speak nicely of the “moderate” John Kasich, we are failing to pay attention to the real dangers lurking off stage, such as the Republican and corporate donor class preparing to bring a white knight, such as Paul Ryan, to the rescue. While Trump would be a real disaster for the country, he is clearly the most defeatable Republican candidate. But Paul Ryan, whose policies are straight out of a corporate America’s wet dream, has been lionized by the mainstream media as a “new face,” as a thoughtful policy wonk who offers real solutions to America. And he is young, dynamic, attractive, and supposedly not even trying for the job. The age contrast he would present to either Democratic nominee would play well in American media.

In short, he, and most any other Republican “savior” who is likely to emerge from a successful stop Trump movement, would be both far more threatening to humanistic and progressive values, and far more likely to be elected than would Donald Trump. So let’s stop being mesmerized by, and singularly focused on, Donald Trump, and keep our eye on the ball. The Republican Party has been taken over by The Radical Right — there is nothing “conservative” about them. They are committed to eviscerating the social safety net, environmental safeguards, labor rights, and so much more. And in important and complex ways, Donald Trump threatens even that establishment. His candidacy could vastly weaken the Republican brand, and certainly help the Democrats regain national ascendancy, including in the Supreme Court. While the Bernie phenomena, regardless of its own electoral success, can provide the groundwork for moving the entire country leftward. But this will not happen if the Republicans can derail Donald Trump, and replace him with a “white knight.”

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On The Conceptual Extermination of Secular Religion

On The Conceptual Extermination of Secular Religion.

At the recent convention of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association I picked up a book on “Living the Secular Life” by Phil Zuckerman. Since Dr. Zuckerman is a “professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California,” and the book comes with endorsements from Susan Jacoby, Greg Epstein, and David Brooks, among others, I thought this book would be useful in developing the theory and practice of our Ethical Humanist congregation on Long Island. But, to my profound chagrin, and even annoyance, I found from the outset, that rather than contributing to our efforts, Professor Zuckerman had defined us out of existence. Without the slightest degree of self-awareness, this “expert” on secular studies simply treats as interchangeable the words secular and anti-religious. Thus all of his facts and arguments presuppose that to be secular you must be anti-religious, and to be religious you must be anti-secular, that is, I suppose, you must believe in the divine and the sacred. I say “suppose”, because I must admit I could not get much beyond the first few pages, so put off was I by this casual conceptual extermination.

But I think the deeper point that calls for comment, is the fact that Professor Zuckerman’s approach is quite representative of the views and attitudes of the vast majority of Americans — and perhaps of many people around the world. As an expert in “secular studies” you would think that Professor Zuckerman would have known better. But that he reproduces conventional prejudices does call for, at least, a response and a clarification.

The word religion may be seen as coming from the Latin religio (or perhaps religare) which refers to being bound. There need be no reference to the divine, sacred, or transcendent in its meaning, though, of course, often there is. But quite to the point, religio speaks to one’s being bound by belief and practice to a shared community – similar to the root of yoke, from which Yoga is drawn. (According to Wikipedia: “yoga (from the root yuj) means “to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach” in its most common literal sense. By figurative extension from the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses, the word took on broader meanings such as “employment, use, application, performance” (compare the figurative uses of “to harness” as in “to put something to some use.””)I need not appeal to Buddhists or Confucians, however, to underline the point that one can be bound up with a community of believers and practitioners, who celebrate life’s passages together, while “ministering” to the needs of one’s fellow congregants, without having to make any appeal to “higher authorities.” In fact, one may well be committed, as are we at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, to building a community of “caring hearts,” living an ethical life, attributing dignity to all human beings, and seeking to promote human respect and social improvement throughout the world, without making the slightest appeal to the divine or sacred. And to do all of this as a secular religious community, that is at least recognized as such by the US government, if not by Professor Zuckerman. If he had made that distinction, I would have loved to see how his factual analyses would have changed, as well as his consideration of the personal and social values of such secular religious communities — with their commitment to science and human betterment — as well as the social and institutional role that such secular organizations might play, more particularly, in the policies and programs of the United States.