Tag Archives: Western values

My public talks currently scheduled for 2018

Public Talks for 2018

“American Philosophy: it’s originality, and practicality, from progressive education to science, law, and democracy.” Gold Coast Library, 1/17 7pm.
There is much that is unique about the development of the United States of America, as well as much that is not. Original visions have struggled with quite traditional values and attitudes throughout our history. American Philosophy, in giving voice to the possibilities of America has made original contributions to Western Philosophy, developing our ideals while critically analyzing our limitations. Touching on a wide range of areas, from education and politics, to religion and science, we will provide a perspective on this development, and suggest some of the fault lines that mark contemporary experience.

“Making Sense of Recent Elections: what can we learn from the unexpected election results in America, Britain, and elsewhere?” South Huntington Library, 1/24 7pm
First the British vote to withdraw from the European Union, then the American election of Donald Trump startled experts and deranged established political expectations and institutions. Similar forces have seemed to be at work at other European countries, though with modified results. What are we to make of these election results, and what do they portend for the future of Western liberal democracies? These are the kind of issues we will seek to address.

“Trump’s America: what is its vision, program, and the nature of its support.” Gold Coast Library, 2/7 at 7pm
We will explore the significance for America of the election of Donald Trump. What were the conditions that laid the groundwork for his election? Who voted for him, and why? And what are the possible consequences?

“Fantasyland: Reflections on America’s Character and Culture”
3 lectures at Hutton House, LIU Wednesdays 2/14-28 from 1-3pm.
In these Reflections on America’s Character and Culture, we will explore:
Who we are. The cultures, ethnicities, and belief systems that have built the U.S. How we developed. Some of the major challenges we have faced, and how we addressed them. Our growth, expansion, and Manifest Destiny. The emergence of the “cultural Cold War” that has come to dominate our politics. The Trump phenomena. And the divergent paths now before us.

“Manifest Destiny and the Meaning of America: thinking about our history and its contemporary relevance.” Syosset Library, 3/1 at 2pm.
Americans have always believed that we are an exceptional people. From the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock, seeking to build “a city upon a hill” that all the world would view as an example of how all should live, through the 19th Century notion that we had a “manifest destiny” to occupy the entire North American continent “from sea to shining sea.” As a nation, we continue to believe “that God shed his Grace on thee.” We joined WW1 “to save the world for democracy,” and continue to believe that we are the beacons of “The Free World,” with an obligation and responsibility to preserve the values that have made us great. What is that belief system? What are its origins? How has it operated to guide our history? And what are its implications for us as a nation today? These are the issues I hope to address.

“The American Dream: what it means and what are its prospects.” Elmont Memorial Library, 4/6 12:30 pm
Since its inception, one of the central meanings of America has been the opportunity to make something of one’s life. America offered the promise, and quite often the reality, of a continually improving standard of living for oneself and for one’s children. This sense of individual possibility, rooted in personal freedom and basic human rights became a beacon for people across the world. That became the wider significance of the claim that we were « as a city upon a hill » for all the world to see what life could become. In recent times, however, this vision has become increasingly uncertain. What has been happening to the American Dream? Why is that? And what can we do about it?

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An Emerging Fascist Putin-Trump Axis?

As events are unfolding, both domestically and internationally, and new revelations and cover ups surround questions of past and present connections between Trump allies and important Russian officials, I am increasingly coming to the belief that we are in the midst of a major neo-Fascist alliance to reshape the Western world.

Trump’s domestic agenda is one that prioritizes corporate interests, while spouting populist rhetoric, demonizes marginalizable groups in the name of America First — the proto-Nazi slogan on Charles Lindberg and friends in the 30s — shows no respect for the law, courts, or traditional democratic norms, and is committed to the militarization of the police and the suppression of dissent. Meanwhile, he praises Putin and other strongmen, hires past promoters of dictators, and undermines American democratic allies and alliances. And this is not to say anything about his possible direct relation with Russian interference in our, and in our allies, elections. At the same time, it is clear that Putin has actively supported Far Right candidates throughout Europe, including the French anti-Semitic National Front and the anti-Muslim party in the Netherlands — all of whom seek to undermine the European Union.

That is why I believe that we can not act as if we are dealing with politics as usual in the U.S. The Trump Administration is not simply a more radical version of traditional Right Wing politics. It is an existential threat to the very survival of representative government in the U.S., and in a significant sense, to the very survival of relatively decent societies in Europe.

And those of us, whether on the Left, Center, or even Right, who believe in the rule of law, and the at least relative respect for human wellbeing, and the rights and dignity of all people, must join together to do everything we can to delegitimize and incapacitate the Trump Administration from carrying out its neo-Fascist agenda at home and abroad.
A necessary practical step in carrying out this program requires undermining the nearly lockstep support that Trump has so far received from the Republican Party. And the most effective practical strategy for accomplishing that is a full court press on the need for a complete, impartial investigation into the Trump campaign’s connection with Russian interference in our election, and pushing that investigation into exploring any and all continuing coordination between the Trump Administration and the Russian Government.

And that is why the effort of many often well-meaning Leftists — who may seek peace, want detente with Russia, and may fear that these concerns with Russian hacking are solely promoted by Cold Warriors in order to recreate a Cold War, or who may still even have a sympathetic identification with Russia as the continuation of the Soviet Communist ideological commitment to promoting the classless society — their efforts to cast doubt on, or even undermine, investigation into Russian interference in our election is, I fear, no doubt unintentionally and quite unfortunately, playing into the hands of this emerging domestic and international Fascist Axis. We must not normalize the Trump Administration. We must do everything to keep the Russian connection front and center in our demand for a complete impartial investigation, as we confront the Trump Administration on every level, defending threatened groups and basic human rights and services, while promoting programs of social justice, human decency, and ecologically sound and equitable economic development.

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.

On the growing threat posed by radical Islam.

Recent events have made starkly clear that radical Islam has become a serious threat to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The killing of three Muslims in North Carolina — purportedly over a parking space dispute — is only the most obvious sign of the way increasing numbers of non-Muslims — egged on by some demagogic media figures — perceive all Muslims as a threat, and may experience social support in discriminating against them, or even engaging in anti-Muslims violence. This is occurring in a world context in which non-Muslins have seen the emergence of an apparently growing radical Islamism that is more than willing to kill unlimited numbers of innocent civilians in the pursuit of its fundamentalist religious agenda. That is an inescapable reality. This movement is real, morally indefensible, and truly frightening. No wonder many have called for intensive scrutiny of all Muslims, and some have even sought to justify completely unjustified attacks at Islamic institutions. This reality has created a very dangerous and potentially unnerving reality confronting innocent, law-abiding Muslims, of which there are many, possibly a large majority, who are placed in the extremely uncomfortable, and possibly even dangerous, situation of having to continually worry that they may be discriminated against, or even targeted for attack, by members of a frightened non-Muslim world.

Thus, this reality of systemic Islamic terrorists presents vital challenges that cannot be avoided, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It must be addressed, and directly and without equivocation. Non-Muslims must honestly confront the factual reality of an international culture of Islam that has not yet experienced an “enlightenment,” has some difficulty in separating church and state, and all too often remains rooted for the most part in a pre-scientific mindset of “divinely-revealed” religious fundamentalism. It is not enough for well-meaning, and even humanist Westerners, for example, to defend the freedom of religious beliefs and hence the rights and liberties of all Muslims — however important and legitimate that is — and to criticize those who raise serious criticism of the religious beliefs and practices of an Islam that claims to be following the direct divine — and hence, non-questionable — directives of Allah.

Such Western humanists and defenders of religious toleration must take seriously the current historical reality of, and propose practical strategies to address the challenge posed by, the current status of the religion and practice of the religion of Islam across the world. We must take seriously an Islamic religious reality that has created, and far too often sustains, an international culture of Islam that can generate massive local protests against the very depiction of the prophet Mohammed that have taken place across the Islamic World, from Algeria to Indonesia, and practically all places in between. More dangerous than even the horrendous violent extremism of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, is the support that such terrorism has received from Islamic masses. Such mass protests and overt expressions of support, even involving many middle class individuals and professionals, have been approved, encouraged, and celebrated by many Islamic religious leaders. Some have explicitly justified the murders at Charlie Hebdo and called for the beheading of any people who commit similar “crimes”. These attitudes are in fact the soil that nurtures radical “Islamism”, that fundamentalist perversion of Islamic values that justifies terrorism in the name of religious purity. It is not sufficient for individual Muslims to separate themselves from such views. It is essential for the organized Islamic community, with its religious officials in the forefront, to systematically, and regularly criticize such beliefs and practices — and even, to do so on religious grounds. And they must do that publicly, and on a regular basis to their congregations.

However, inevitable and necessary, for the non-Islamic world to energetically oppose such views, and in so doing, to carefully and effectively reaffirm their commitment in word and deed to freedom of thought, discussion, and association, freedom of the press, and respect for the dignity of all people, that will hardly convince Islamic true believers. Only sustained, public and effective action by the organized leadership of Islam, and that internationally, across the Islamic World, can begin to turn the tide. Until that is done, it is inevitable and understandable that all Muslims will be under some suspicion, and their personal freedom and respect will be on the defensive. And that threat to non-violent and law obedient Muslims, is also a very serious, and probably growing, threat to Western values of human rights and dignity for all people, and to the institutional protections which are vital to the continued existence of free, democratic self-governance.