This Week in Humanism 2017–10–22

by | October 22, 2017

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Original publication in Humanist Voices.

“George Weigel’s Witness to Hope was written before its subject was canonised, but that exhaustive biography vibrated with confidence that the day of universal recognition would be inevitable. Weigel has become something of a pontifical Boswell, and his third volume about John Paul II is like the last wing on a vivid triptych by Memling or Rubens. The first two books were analytical, while this one — Lessons of Hope (Basic Books, £25) — is a portrait more ruminative and personal, and not without humour. It may even be more valuable precisely for that. History is disserved by those who think that private asides and impressions are secondary to major dates and deeds.

Weigel’s classical theological formation and his own urbane humanism made him a good fit for understanding Karol Wojtyła, and it would seem that the Holy Father sensed the same, enjoying his company and table talk. Through that association, Weigel was able to perceive the pope’s sources and initiatives, beginning with his pastoral work in Poland.

Wojtyła’s Polishness was not something to be thrust aside when he became Universal Pastor, like some gnostic shedding of irrelevant skin. Poland was an icon of Christ in its heroic deeds and salvific suffering, far more than most nations. That land, with trembling borders but unflagging chivalry, was crucified over centuries, only to rise with valour when its people cried out in 1979: “We want God.” And Wojtyła was there to hear them.”


“Twelve students. Many religions. One common goal.

A new program on campus called the Center for Religion and Global Citizenryis bringing together students of different beliefs, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and secular humanism, to promote inter-religious dialogue at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The center, which had its first meeting Oct. 10, is a co-curricular, non-credit educational opportunity for a selected group of students, who each receive a $750 stipend for their work at the center. The 12 students who were selected from around 30 applicants will meet weekly to discuss a curriculum created by Ulrich Rosenhagen, the center’s director.

Rosenhagen, who is also a lecturer in religious studies, says the goal of the new center is for students to have “tough conversations” about religion in a meaningful and respectful way. The core group of students can then bring these interfaith discussions to the larger campus community by organizing events, panels and discussions for the whole campus.”


“Parents be vigilant! And this also is why groups like Humanists UK are so important, supporting such ideals. This is from them:

A Church of England school in Kent has been forced to stop a Christian group from delivering assemblies and lessons to its pupils after parents complained about their children being exposed to ‘a potentially damaging ideology’. Humanists UK, which campaigns against the privileged position given to religion in schools, has stood by the parents, and called for a ‘national conversation’ about religious influence and evangelising in the education system.

In a letter to parents, the headteacher of St John’s Church of England Primary School in Tunbridge Wells, Dan Turvey, stated that ‘After careful consideration I have decided that we will end our regular commitment to CrossTeach and that they will no longer lead assemblies or take lessons.’ However, he said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the move.”


For admirers of mainstream Bollywood films, the name Rahul Bose commands attention. But for audiences of Bengali and art house cinema, his name commands respect.

The actor, known for being choosy when it comes to signing films, is now also a director, and his second directorial venture Poorna is generating a great deal of buzz in showbiz circles.

Recently, Poorna got a standing ovation at the opening of the Indian film festival in Dublin. Many of those who saw it were pleasantly surprised because they did not have high expectations of the film, expecting it to be a simple story about a little girl who climbed Everest — a film for children.”


“Regardless of whether we are cognizant of it or not, we all have a worldview that shapes our ideas, gives a framework for our lives, and dictates our presuppositions about morality and mortality.

In the United States, two prevailing views are a Christian eternal worldview or humanistic view. Why do people who have so much in common see the world and make choices so differently? Why is there such deep chasm between people regarding what is right and wrong, just or unjust, or understanding of the meaning of life?

The humanistic view rejects God and sees man as the measure of all things, that man sets the standard for ethical and moral standards, that man is basically good, not sinful. This kind of thinking is based in moral relativism. If this life on earth is all there is for us, then as much pleasure as possible should be sought before it’s over.”


“I have been reading lately about the rise of humanism in Europe. The old scholars often described themselves as “ravished” by one of the books newly made available to them by the press, perhaps also by translation. Their lives were usually short, never comfortable. I think about what it would have been like to read by the light of an oil lamp, to write with a goose quill. It used to seem to me that an unimaginable self-discipline must account for their meticulous learnedness. I assumed that the rigors and austerities of their early training had made their discomforts too familiar to be noticed. Now increasingly I think they were held to their work by a degree of fascination, of sober delight, that we can no longer imagine.

John Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book.” He was arguing, unsuccessfully, against licensing, the suppression or censoring of books before publication. This was usual in the premodern and early modern world, of course. How many good books were killed outright by these means we will never know, even granting the labors of printers who defied the threat of hair-raising punishments to publish unlicensed work, which others risked hair-raising penalties to own or to read.”


“The potential of Corbynism is enormous. But, for its full potential to unfold, we see it as essential that forms of politics beyond the purely electoral make use of all the capacities and enthusiasm of the Labour Party’s expanded activist base

In late 2016, Labour was polling in the mid-20s and many were happy to say that supporting the leadership was a foolish endeavour, if not an entirely futile one. It felt at the time as though the potential and energy of Corbynism was at risk of waning as it struggled to move beyond the immediate defence of Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader. However, our aim when we imagined a new project was not so much to be at the vanguard of this defence, as vital as it was, but to pour our energies into being useful in other ways.

We want to bring together people in Labour, Momentum and trade unions who are already active and engaged. The aim is to assist and encourage these comrades in their efforts to broaden the reach of the labour movement and build a political force capable of radically transforming society.”


“”Please don’t jump down my throat,” Taylor Grin thought as he approached his training instructor with a request.

It was 2013, and Grin was a few weeks into Air Force basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. He had just learned which religious services were available to trainees — Catholic, several Protestant denominations, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, among others.

Grin, then 26, considered himself a secular humanist, someone who pursues an ethical life without a belief in God. With no chaplain-facilitated service for trainees like him, he wanted to start one — and became a key player in a national culture war playing out within the U.S. military.”


“It is his view of the death penalty, not theirs, that departs from Catholic teaching.

For decades, liberal Catholics have relativized Catholic dogma and dogmatized relativism. Pope Francis is the champion of this movement. One moment, he is pushing Jesuitical situation ethics, which is an outgrowth of moral relativism; in the next, he is hectoring Catholics that his flaky political opinions constitute “Catholic social teaching.” To adulterers, he says: Go and sin some more. To people who fail to recycle, he has urged confession and repentance.

To more fanfare from the media this week, he declared the death penalty “inadmissible” everywhere and always and says that he wants to change the catechism to reflect this absolutist view. Never mind that his entire pontificate has been devoted to saying that life is too murky for “black and white” moral norms. Somehow he has managed to find one.

Not a single one of his predecessors took the position that the death penalty is intrinsically unjust. But he does and says that anyone who disagrees is a proponent of “vengeance.” He claims a deeper understanding of Christian imperatives, even though the origin of his pacifism isn’t Christian. It springs not from the moral absolutes of the Christian tradition but from the relativistic humanism contained within post-Enlightenment moral and political philosophy. He is rendering not to Christ or Caesar but to Cesare Beccaria, the 18th-century father of left-wing criminology who set the modern world on its pro-prisoner course.”


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