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Beyond Reason and Science: A Radical Challenge
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Gerald A. Larue
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NACH/The Humanist Institute

The Human Faith Project—"Our Commitment is to the Worth and Dignity of Every Person"

J. Calvin Chatlos

Presents a non-supernatural spiritual framework and experiential process for exploring and strengthening a human-centered faith. Started at the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County, the process has been replicated with validating results. Founded on the experience of Being which highlights the integration of thinking, feeling and doing, a series of experiential distinctions are described that lead to faith that is defined as "unquestioning belief with complete trust, confidence, loyalty, and reliance on human beings." The Ethical Imperative of "Act to elicit the best in others and thereby in yourself" and the "commitment to the worth and dignity of every person" guide the process. Distinctions lead to an experience of increased self-worth that is integrated from self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-competence and an increased expression of dignity, or "honoring the worth" that is integrated from increased reason/wisdom, empathy/compassion/caring, and courage. A specific "Faith Process" facilitates breakthroughs into new awareness with identification of former patterns of personal identity, attitudes, values, beliefs, habits, and expectations. Processing of these blocks to the faith experience which requires open-heartedness, open-mindedness, and open-handeness further opens distinctions of the empowering experiences of Love, Truth, and Faith identified as Creative Forces. Personal connections to religious experience, spirituality, intuition, and mysticism are explored. Unexpected results of direct application of living with faith are demonstrated. Possibilities of the universality of this process leading to a greater unity of the human spirit are discussed.

Our faith is in the capacity and responsibility of human beings to act in their personal relationships and in the larger community to help create a better world....

Our commitment is to the worth and dignity of the individual, and to treating each human being so as to bring out the best in him or her—American Ethical Union (AEU) Statement of Purpose.

Challenged by these words, the Human Faith Project explores the experience of human faith and strengthens our faith in people. Founded on our "commitment to the worth and dignity of every person," this non-supernatural spiritual dimension of human experience provides a powerful and universal foundation for Humanism for the 21st century.

The Human Faith Project started at the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County in New Jersey with 14 people meeting two hours twice a month for a year. It has since been replicated in a format of two full days and two evenings. The original purpose was to experience human faith and its power within Ethical Culture and Humanism and also present a framework for some of the valued principles of Unitarian Universalism. [1] Its genesis was an expansion of the author's experiences working with people with addictions and mental disorders. This discussion is presented to enroll others in the expansion of this Project, which in many ways, is also a practical application of what John Dewey described in A Common Faith. [2]

Foundation of Being and the Process of Making Distinctions

The Human Faith Project focuses on the experience of human "being." It is part of the discipline of ontology, which is the study of being :

ONTOLOGY (Mod L. ontos, to be—a combining form meaning being, existence + LOGY , study) the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, reality, or ultimate substance. [All definitions are taken from Webster's New World College Dictionary. [3] ]

 In the following discussion, "Being" will be capitalized to designate it as an experience instead of an object. Of course, full details of the human experience would encompass all of humanity's rich history in its many aspects, including science, religion, the arts, humanities, and many other areas. For our purposes, and to integrate the major division in Western civilization promulgated by Descartes, we will discuss the experience of Being as consisting of the 3 major domains of thinking, feeling, and doing: "I think, I feel, I do, therefore I am". Because language is mostly in the single domain of thinking, communication about Being is often limited or inadequate for its full expression. However, the relevance of this integration will be apparent as we present ideas of worth, dignity, and faith as experiences and distinctions of Being.

This reference to "distinctions of Being" approaches faith ontologically and highlights the specific skill of making distinctions. For example, we have experiences that we can describe in the individual domains of thinking, feeling, and doing. However, we can describe other experiences that we recognize only by integrating these domains. For example, "balance" is an experience that we know. We can identify it with thoughts like "I'm not falling;" a feeling that is difficult to describe, but includes a clearly recognizable mixture of exhilarating freedom and fear; and the doing or action of not falling. Yet, none of these domains individually expresses the experience called balance. In recalling an early experience of balance, as with learning to roller skate, ice skate, or ride a bicycle, you recollect an early experience of making a distinction. Once made, it persists as part of a person's Being. The integration of these particular thoughts, feelings and actions defines the distinction of Being called "balance." This process, in which we distinguish any experience of Being from any other experience, illustrates what we mean by a distinction. Jean Piaget described this fundamental learning process in detail in his wonderful works with children. He describes how this process of distinguishing, or in his words modification of a "schema" begins with actions and material objects, progresses to relationships between objects, and then to specific concepts. [4] Our task was to expand this to making distinctions of Being.

Distinction of Faith / Not Faith

Faith, referring to a human faith, is an experience of Being rarely explored in Humanism. Humanism has unnecessarily and perhaps unwisely ceded the experience of faith to the god-focused religions and the supernatural, often due to a limited understanding of faith as belief. We will describe how human faith is a powerful creative force that can be identified and strengthened through a structured process. This is similar to what is attributed to Corliss Lamont:

‘faith' is a perfectly good Humanist expression.…It is an attitude rather than a belief...a commitment of the heart to one's most significant beliefs. [5]

We started with a general definition of faith:

FAITH—1. unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence  2. unquestioning belief in god, religious tenets, etc.  3. a religion or a system of religious beliefs 4. anything believed 5. complete trust, confidence, or reliance  6. allegiance to some person or thing; loyalty.

From this, we developed a consensus working definition of human faith for participants of the Project:

HUMAN FAITH (consensus definition)—unquestioning belief with complete trust, confidence, loyalty, and reliance on human beings.

To be sure, the words "unquestioning" and "complete" gave our definition an idealistic quality. We realized that in most people the faith-state is temporary and rarely absolute. Throughout our work we viewed faith as having a dual continuum of strength and time. Members of the Human Faith Project agreed to use this consensus definition in their daily lives and identify those experiences of the faith-state as distinguished from those experiences that were not of the faith-state. Reactions to this included attitudes of cynicism, pessimism, contempt, and doubt but also the attitude of enthusiasm, indicating an openness to the possibility of living with faith and highlighting its original etymology related to faith:

ENTHUSIASM = (Gr. enthousiasmos < enthousiazein, to be inspired, be possessed by a god, inspire < enthous, entheos, possessed by a god , en-, in + theos, god)

Faith and the Ethical Imperative

This led us to ask "How does living in faith challenge us to act toward others and toward life?". This question links the process to the realm of ethics:

ETHICS (ME. ethik < L. ethicus < Gr. ethikos < ethos, character, custom) 1. the study of standards of conduct and moral judgment; moral philosophy 2. a treatise on this study 3. the system or code of morals of a particular person, religion, group, profession, etc.

Within Ethical Culture, Felix Adler emphasized this link in the Ethical Imperative:

Act to elicit the best in others and thereby in yourself.

Still, this Imperative requires interpretation of what is "best". The answer supplied within the AEU Statement of Purpose firmly grounds our Humanism in faith and opens new dimensions of Being to empower our lives:

Our commitment is to the worth and dignity of every person.

"Best" means to enhance the worth and dignity of every person. This commitment is an expression of human faith. There is no a priori reason for this commitment, and much evidence against doing it.

Distinction of Worth (as Experience)

"Our commitment is to the worth and dignity of every person" is a stated foundation for some Humanist groups such as Ethical Culture and Unitarian Universalism. It may even be considered a basic foundation for Humanism. However, it frequently becomes the stumbling block with varied interpretations, vehement disagreements, and statements that often appear as unfounded as belief in the supernatural. This leads to disrespect for the commitment's significance. The Human Faith Project identified problems with this commitment, proposes a solution to these problems, and describes some unifying results of applying this solution. It further recommends this solution as a universal foundation for Humanism.

We must begin with a foundation of Humanism, the concept of worth:

WORTH (ME. < OE. weorth, akin to weorthian, to honor, G. wert, worth, werden, to become < IE. base wert—< wer-, to turn) 1. material value, esp. as expressed in terms of money or some other medium of exchange. 2. that quality of a person or thing that lends importance, value, merit, etc. and that is measurable by the esteem in which the person or thing is held. 3. the amount or quantity of something that may be had for a given sum (a dime's worth of nuts) 4. wealth; possessions; riches.

Since the statement that worth is "intrinsic" or "inherent" may create additional problems, and since resolving this issue is unnecessary for our purposes, I defer a detailed clarification of this issue to another opportunity. For our purposes, the qualities mentioned in the above definition (#2) are the non-material qualities of human Being, which are separate from material qualities usually referred to by the word value and often relating to the other definitions (#1,3,4). This "commitment to the worth and dignity of every person" is twofold. It refers not only to our commitment to the basic worth of human Being, which is a fundamental principle of Humanism, but also refers more practically to the distinction of the experience of worth, which has been neglected in discussions throughout Humanism. Worth as an experience generally reflects an inner experience that people recognize as self-worth.

The experience of self-worth is an experience of Being. Relating to Webster's definition of worth, the experience of self-worth is associated with the internal reflection of the "importance...that is measurable by the esteem in which the person is held" and is related to self-esteem. In this way, the experience of worth (self-worth) has both internal and external aspects, as it is related to the esteem in which others hold the person. This differs from both intrinsic and extrinsic, and may account for some of the confusion in our debates.

The experience of self-worth is an internal, but not an intrinsic, experience in the sense of it not being present at birth, and developing over time through a reflective interaction with the external esteem in which the person is held. [6] . Therefore, it varies significantly from person to person, and in each person over time. Self-worth is identified as an integrated experience of the three domains of Being and consists of self-confidence in the domain of thinking, self-esteem in the domain of feeling, and self-competence or self-efficacy in the domain of doing:

 

Domain

of Being

Experience of

Self-Worth

thinking

self-confidence

feeling

self-esteem

doing

self-competence

 

Each of these describes the experience of self in specific domains that have been clarified and explored within psychology. [7] The presence and integration of these represent the internal experience of self-worth. The external reflection of self-esteem is associated with the esteem in which others hold that person; the external reflection of self-confidence is associated with the trust or confidence in which others hold that person; and the external reflection of self-competence is associated with the capability or competence with which others hold that person.

This structure guided the Human Faith Project. By this commitment, therefore, we mean a commitment to affirming, enhancing, or empowering the experience of self-worth in every person, separated into the domains of Being as self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-competence. Examples of how this might be done would include acknowledgment and affirmation (confidence), praise and expression of pride (esteem), and commendation (competence).

Distinction of Dignity (as Expression)

But where does dignity fit, and how necessary is it to our commitment? Dignity is defined as:

DIGNITY (ME. and OFr. dignite < L. dignitas, worth, merit < dignus, worthy < IE. base dek-, to receive, be fitting: cf. DECOR, DOCILE) 1. the quality of being worthy of esteem or honor; worthiness

or simply "Honoring the worth." In the Human Faith Project, consistent with our perspective on worth (self-worth), dignity is identified as an experience of Being defined as a quality integrated across the domains of thinking, feeling, and doing. In the domain of thinking, an aspect of human Being that we would honor is reason or wisdom.

In the domain of feeling, an aspect of human Being that we honor as dignity would be empathy, or compassion, or caring.

EMPATHY (Gr. empatheia, affection, passion , <en-, in + pathos, feeling) 1. the projection of one's own personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better; ability to share in another's emotions, thoughts, or feelings.

COMPASSION (ME. & OFr. < LL. compassio, sympathy < compassus, pp. of compati, to feel pity < L. com—together + pati, to suffer) sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy.

The honor and dignity of empathy is related to our capacity to experience through language and to share similar feelings through language communication. By compassion, we do not mean sorrow or pity, but an ability to have empathy for the sufferings of others accompanied by an urge to help. By including caring, we emphasize the link to recent writings of Carol Gilligan [8]   and Nel Noddings. [9] These feelings are honored because of their ethically sensitive nature.

In the domain of doing, the aspect of human Being that we honor as dignity is courage.

COURAGE (ME. & OFr. corage, heart, spirit <L. cor. HEART) 1. the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; quality of being fearless or brave; valor.

To know consequences of our actions to the extent that memory and language allows, and to still act from choice in the face of fear of these consequences, is courage.

Thus we recognize that dignity as an expression of Being that honors the worth that is human Being highlights reason or wisdom, empathy, compassion or caring, and courage. The integration of these experiences from their individual domains is the ethical expression of dignity, recognizing that dignity can transcend ethical qualities.

 

Domain

of Being

Experience of

Self-Worth

Expression of

Dignity

thinking

self-confidence

reason/wisdom

feeling

self-esteem

empthy/

compassion/caring

doing

self-competence

courage

 

Commitment to the Worth and Dignity of Every Person

Combining these distinctions, we recognize that we can define this commitment operationally as a commitment to the "experience" of worth and dignity of every person. This means that we are committed to treating each person in a way that affirms, enhances, and empowers his or her experience of worth (self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-competence) and expression of dignity (wisdom, empathy, courage). In this usage, we are not saying that we are committed to a quality that is intrinsic, or to a material or non-material value that compares one person to others, but to a personal experience of their own worth and dignity. This builds on our commitment to the basic worth of human Being, previously noted to be a fundamental principle of Humanism.

Furthermore, this approach is particularly powerful if it is linked to the Ethical Imperative "Act to elicit the best in others and thereby in yourself." This Ethical Imperative often raises the questions "What do we mean by best?" and "Who is the judge of what is best—me or that person?" and "How do I know what is best?" Our previous discussion implies that "best" is determined from the other person's experience of worth (self-worth) and dignity. Acting to elicit the best in others means acting to affirm, enhance, or empower their experience of their own worth and dignity. Furthermore, acting to elicit the best in another person requires an expansion of our understanding (wisdom) of other's worth and dignity through empathy/compassion/caring, and frequently involves courage, which accounts for the result in the latter part of the Ethical Imperative of "and thereby in yourself". This creates an empowering loop whereby "Act to elicit the best..." is a commitment to the worth and dignity of the person, and a commitment to the worth and dignity of every person when applied in action is "Act to elicit the best..." It is this expansion of dignity itself involving wisdom, empathy/compassion/ caring, and courage that provides the empowering quality of the Ethical Imperative beyond the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can include one-sided, non-empathic actions with an arrogance that expects them to be accepted by the receiver as well as would be by the doer. An example that frequently occurs would be when a fundamentalist Christian gives advice to "believe in Jesus Christ," which is what they would want for themselves. The combination of the Ethical Imperative with the commitment to the worth and dignity of every person, when applied faithfully as described, is one of the most empowering principles to guide ethical actions whether through Humanism, or through other religions.

The Faith Process

The Human Faith Project has pursued further application of these principles. Meaningfully making this commitment to the worth and dignity of every person begins a person's journey into the transformational experience of the Faith Process diagrammed below:

 

This diagram illustrates the structure of the process behind the Human Faith Project. As people meaningfully make this commitment, and apply it to relationships everyday, recognition of blocks that may prevent someone from keeping their commitment are identified. We call these blocks "Structures from the Past" since they arise from past experiences. The Human Faith Project identified these blocks systematically to strengthen our experience of faith. Specific categories of blocks include aspects of Being such as identity, attitudes, beliefs, values, habits, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, expectations, and physical symptoms. The full details of this process have not yet been documented but the following examples are illustrative.

 

Making this commitment assisted in developing the distinctions already presented, as we defined what it means to be committed to the experience of worth (self-worth) and expression of every person's dignity. Initial identities, or fixed patterns, habits, or self-concepts based on prior experiences were immediately challenged. One of the first identities clarified was the identity as a Humanist that may have included disbelief or doubts about faith, often associated with a skeptic attitude. For some, their Humanist identity included a reaction from past religious experiences, experiences of "blind faith," persons living with a faith with no supporting evidence, or the idea that bad things happen even to those with faith. This limited "Humanist" identity blocked openness to faith, as it excluded people that we did not like or agree with, often related to religious attitudes or differences about the experience of faith. We recognized that "every person" includes people we dislike or with whom we disagree, find disgusting or repulsive, and even consider evil e.g., Hitler). The judgmental aspects of our identities blocked us from keeping this commitment. Self-righteous attitudes, as expressed by "Hitler has no worth!" or the indignant "She's a Christian!" or "He's a Fundamentalist!" block this process. Frequently underlying the skeptic identity was a contempt for certain people that was not consistent with our stated commitment.

We worked with attitudes realizing that they specifically grasp the integrated experience of Being, including a thought, a feeling, and a behavior. An example of a pessimistic attitude might include the thought "This won't work", a feeling of hopelessness or disappointment, and an action of avoidance, withdrawal, or hesitation. We were "being" attitudes in relation to other people and to this commitment. Most commonly encountered attitudes that blocked the commitment were attitudes of skepticism (e.g., "I doubt it until you prove it"), pessimism (e.g., "Faith doesn't get you anywhere, bad things still happen"), cynicism (e.g., "There's no reason to have faith"), the non-believer (e.g., "Nothing you do could prove faith"), defiance (e.g., "This is all wrong"), knowing it all (e.g., "I already know what you're talking about"), and hopelessness (e.g., "I couldn't possibly live like that—it's too hard"). As the challenge of this commitment became clearer, these obstructive attitudes often appeared to grow in strength. These identities and attitudes are experiences and expressions of a person's Being, often not consistent with a commitment to every person's worth and dignity. Attitudes or identities not consistent with our commitment to universal worth and dignity were dissected into their component thoughts, feelings, and actions. These attitudes or identities determined by the component thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are linked to past experiences usually involving disappointment, misguidance, personal abuse in the name of worth and dignity, or abuse in the name of faith including past abusive religious experiences. As we identified these identities and attitudes not consistent with our commitment, members were challenged with an opportunity or choice to either be their attitude or identity, or to be their commitment. This frequently required an expansion of the participant's own experience of worth and dignity (thereby in yourself). Members demonstrated wisdom, increased caring, and courage as they accepted the challenge of Being their stated commitment.

My challenge focused on my feelings toward a particular person who evoked strong negative feelings within me. I reached out to her in friendliness, suggesting a more cordial relationship. In our talk together, she told me of my past unkindness and oversights toward her, most of which I was unaware. But her truth struck an honest note of recognition in me, and I was able to acknowledge my blindness both to her and myself. We then agreed to develop a more cordial relationship. We are not staunch friends, but there is a new respect and even warmth between us. I have come to know her better and discover her truly unique qualities which I now appreciate.—Betty.

Necessary Conditions for Being Worth and Dignity

To facilitate this process, members divided into small groups to continue working with the distinctions between sessions. The objective was to practice being worth and dignity in all of our relationships. The understanding from Johari's Window (see diagram) simplified the experience of relationships and assisted us in the process involving self-disclosure and feedback. We recognized that some necessary conditions for continuing the Faith Process included honesty, openness, and willingness, appropriately expressed in the acronym HOW. The willingness had been present from the beginning but required an honesty in sharing of thoughts and feelings and providing feedback that was not immediately present. Openness to this feedback and the opportunity for new experience emphasized the personal responsibility expressed in the rearrangement to the acronym WHO, which led to the answer for us to be our commitment. The new experiences helped to open the "unknown area" in participants.

Consistent with our focus on Being, our work recognized that openness is necessary in all three domains consisting of open-mindedness in the domain of thinking, open-heartedness in the domain of feeling, and open-handedness in the domain of doing. Facilitation of the process continued with sharing "one of your greatest heartaches of Ethical Culture/ Humanism."

 

The Johari Window

 

The Johari Window describes basic elements of communication with another person. The window has four sections: the public self, private self, blind area, and the unknown area. We all have these four areas and as we interact with others, the window changes. The public self is what everybody knows—the obvious things known such as hair color or behaviors; the private self is what is only known by you—secrets about your thoughts or feelings, or past experiences; the blind area is what other people know about you, but you don't know—the "bad breath" area; the unknown area is what nobody knows but may become known under certain conditions of stress or openness. Communication that includes self-disclosure and feedback facilitates expanding the public self into the unknown area.

 

Love and the Distinction of the Creative Forces

Maintaining the integrity of our commitment in this process led to an enhanced Ethical or Humanist Identity as we distinguished the next level of Being. This began with an opening to the experience of love within the group:

A: I would like to call most anybody in the group; that if we get to a level where if I need help, I can call most anyone and talk about the pain.

B: I have trouble understanding why you want to do that. What would you feel if you reach that?

Facilitator: Mike is asking what feeling we would get; what is it that's there when we can do that—we avoid the word.

B: Love.

Facilitator: Yes. That's the level of connection that happens if we're openhearted.

C: We've never used that word in this group before!

This distinction of Love was not only as a feeling, or of love as a commitment such as "I love you", but Love as a force. This experience was akin to the Greek distinction of Love as agape, as opposed to the Greek distinctions of philos or Eros.

AGAPE (LL.(Ec.) < Gr. agape, love) 1. Christian Theol. a) God's love for man; divine love b) spontaneous, altruistic love.

PHILOS (<Gr. philos, loving) a combining form meaning loving, liking, having a predilection for.

EROS (L.<Gr. Eros < Eros, love)Gr. Myth., the god of love, son of Aphrodite: identified by the Romans with Cupid. 1. sexual love or desire.

This distinction of Love became very powerful, with some members having experiences similar to that of religious conversion experiences as described by William James:

had a vivid realization of forgiveness and renewal of my nature. When rising from my hands I exclaimed, ‘Old things have passed away, all things have become new'. It was like entering another world, a new state of experience. Natural objects were glorified, my spiritual vision was so clarified that I saw beauty in every object in the universe, the woods were vocal with heavenly music; my soul exulted in the love of God, and I wanted everybody to share in my joy. [10]

From the Human Faith Project:

A: I attended the platform address on the family topic, and shared experiences. I felt the presence of love, and was able to embrace the feeling. I said, "Its happening" and felt glad to be there. Even in the whole group. I could sense that something was bubbling up and coming forth. It was very exciting.

A breakthrough in openheartedness occurred as members distinguished the experience of Love as a Creative Force in the domain of feeling:

 

Domain

of Being

Experience of

Self-Worth

Expression of

Dignity

Creative Forces

thinking

self-confidence

reason/wisdom

 

feeling

self-esteem

empathy/

compassion/

caring

Love

doing

self-competence

courage

 

 

The Creative Forces are so called because the experience, as will be later described, is powerful like a force, and it releases creative experience in thoughts, feelings, and opportunities for new behaviors.

B: It really is creative. I was puzzled over this specific problem, and told myself that I should act with Faith; and when I did, the solution just came to me. It was almost like it was automatic.

In parallel to traditional religious imagery, the experience of these Creative Forces is like surrendering to a greater power, "whose" powerful influence is now available. As described below, the reason remains intact but gains added power to guide Being. We had now identified the structure and order that had been guiding our efforts. Apparently, the opening to this level of integration opens our whole Being to a new creativity.

Distinction of Spirituality

We had entered a new realm of experience that could also be described by the word "spirituality". Many negative attitudes about spirituality and its relationship to religion blocked further progress, requiring this area to be further distinguished. Assisting us were some useful definitions to distinguish the experiences. The etymological source of the word religion helped guide us:

RELIGION (M.E. religioun < OFr. religion < L. religio, reverence for the gods, holiness, a system of religious belief < religare, to bind back < re-, back + ligare, to bind together) any specific system of belief, worship, conduct, etc., often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.

By returning to the root re-ligare, we emphasized the aspect of religion that "binds together" or makes meaning of this universe of experience. Further understanding came from William James:

were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul. [11]

Or yet another source:

The awakening reason demands a theory of the universe and ceases to be satisfied with the patchwork schemes of mythology. The moral self coming to partial consciousness of its nature and scope demands a higher rule of life and a deeper understanding of its relation to cosmic forces. Instead of inventing stories about the beginning of things and the origin of laws, the mind begins to search for the general truths underlying or permeating experience and giving unity and meaning to human purposes. The forward step achieved by thought in this movement may be described by saying that the imagery of its earlier stage is replaced by defined and reasoned conceptions formed by the analysis and reconstruction of primitive ideas. . . . fail as it may in its attempts at final truth, a deeper religion and a higher ethics are the outcomes of each new effort. [12]

We were delineating the heretofore "unseen order" and "general truths" of the Faith Process that were available to us all. Specifically, the experience and distinctions of Being, so far including worth, dignity, and Love had not previously been experienced or distinguished in this manner. Part of this "order" was the opening into spirituality and the Creative Forces. There was a compelling quality as persons opened to these distinctions.

To further assist in overcoming past experiences or attitudes related to spirituality, a guiding definition from the author's work was used:

SPIRITUALITY—the quality of the relationship to whomever or whatever is most important in life. This quality is specifically characterized by 1) Vitality/Aliveness; 2) Wholeness/Integrity; 3) Connectedness. These characteristics and experience open to 4) New Meaning or Purpose.

Still, the breakthrough into the experience of Love and spirituality encountered further obstacles. A session with openness to Love was followed by sessions that blocked it from progressing further. This was evidence that the past was more powerful than our commitment. Handling Love and closeness grew increasingly difficult as intimacy increased. As we further distinguished this experience, we identified a major block to this Creative Force of Love: fearful expectations of being hurt due to past rejections. We identified the protective shell of emotional survival that blocked open-heartedness. Sharing of these fears and past hurts and rejections increased the open-heartedness and strengthened the experience of Love. Members brought forward their courage to overcome these fearful expectations and increased their compassion of self and others through their sharing, with breakthroughs into the area of the unknown of Johari's window.

Distinction of Truth

For some members the experience was confusing as expressed with "I can't understand this". This confusion indicated a block in the domain of thinking. Exploration of this block to open-mindedness led to recognizing and distinguishing the creative force of "Truth:"

 

Domain

of Being

Experience of

Self-Worth

Expression of

Dignity

Creative Forces

thinking

self-confidence

reason / wisdom

Truth

feeling

self-esteem

empathy/

compassion/

caring

Love

doing

self-competence

courage

 

In distinguishing this Truth, we are not referring to Truth as an objective right or wrong, but as a force that was recognizable as an experience among group members. This Truth is similar to Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha or "Truth Force," and can be described as an awareness of what empowers human worth and dignity. As an example, Gandhi's confrontation of the British and their beating of his followers, led to the British recognition of the "untruth" that slavery is and the Truth that freedom is to human worth and dignity. This example provides some insight into how the social expansion of this commitment and process empowers the values of liberty, freedom and justice which are basic Humanist social values. In some ways, it is similar to the Truth of being fully open to another Being in the I-Thou relationship as described by Martin Buber. [13] When experienced in a group setting, this distinction has participants experience this word Truth in a powerful new light. Members learned to distinguish when this was present in themselves and others.

A: another example, B in the session last time¼you were honest enough to say you looked up nubile in three different dictionaries to prove that C was wrong; and then I had the sense that it shifted, that you were looking at what you said in a different way, and realized that C's worth and dignity wasn't being honored¼.I think that's the shift we're talking about, in the sense that you seemed to change¼.

B: What A felt, I wasn't aware of until long afterwards...the experience you (A) felt occurred with me several days later; and she saw what was there but I didn't know it yet. My perception came later than hers.

Still, our minds were not open to faith. We were still trying to preserve a worldview or paradigm about faith and spirituality by "knowing" or "understanding" before experiencing. This often occurs as an attempt to preserve our identity as reasoning and rational beings, fearful that anything not understood first would be threatening to intellectual integrity. This again indicated the presence of a protective shell. We explored the question "What if there is knowledge that cannot be understood before it is experienced?" By asking for the understanding first, we are deprived of, or isolated and alienated from the experience. Intuition is necessary to overcome this perspective, but it relies on experience without prior understanding. Though the experimentation of science in determining reality is indispensable to our humanism, we were refusing to experiment in our daily lives. Our "rational" approach would not allow the experience without knowing the results first, denying ourselves the very experience of testing hypotheses that gives science its creative and rational power. Removing this obstacle, or habit, often requires intuition and the temporary suspension of reasoned understanding.

INTUITION (LL. <L. intuitus, pp of intueri, to look at, regard < in-, in+tueri, to look at, view) 1. the direct knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning; immediate apprehension or understanding 2. something known or learned in this way 3. the ability to perceive or know things without conscious reasoning.

With the requirement for reasoned understanding no longer serving to block open-mindedness, intuition leads us to this Truth that we can only recognize from the experience, and can only understand after the experience. Reason and rationality not only remain, but are used to emerge with a fuller understanding after one surrenders to the experience. Living like this requires courage; evaluating and using it realistically requires wisdom.

Preliminary understanding of this experience relates it to Thomas Kuhn's paradigm shift. [14] A shift in the worldview of Being occurs. Unlike Kuhn's, our paradigm shift extends beyond the thinking domain, to the emotions and behavior with a conviction (domain of doing) to the new worldview that the Faith Process offers. It is more similar to the "Aha!" experience of Archimedes or the conversion experience described by William James. [15] This use of the Faith Process and this experience of Truth provides a firmer foundation for reason and science, with their paradigm shift focus, to be linked to religion and the spiritual experience with their conversion focus. Within the Faith Process, this distinction of Truth again highlights the Structures from the Past: previously we had used mind and reason to preserve a personal identity whose demands for proof covered a closed-mindedness to experience before understanding. This further highlights the value of developing a method of inquiry to investigate these integrated experiences of Being and these distinctions of the Creative Forces.

With some speculation, this Faith Process can even be related to basic brain structure: thinking is associated primarily with the cerebral cortex, feeling with the limbic system, and doing to the midbrain and hypothalamus with their primitive and life-sustaining appetitive and drive control centers including the basic drive of attachment versus alienation. The inclusion of this last domain of doing and its relationship to the appetitive control centers may be basic to our understanding of spirituality or the "soul" of Being. These experiences provide links to the original Greek conception of soul or "psyche" as a human term referring to the center and deepest passions of human Being, or the "anima" as Jung's archetype of the soul within the collective unconscious. An image that fosters further understanding is that of soul being the roots of a tree pushing deeper for a strong foundation and "spirit" being the branches that expand with creativity and inspiration. [16]

INSPIRE ( ME. inspiren < Ofr. inspirer , L inspirare , in-, in, on + spirare, to breathe) 1. to breathe or blow upon or into, to infuse life into by breathing.

The experience of soul is involved with the depths of our Being and with the most intense struggles of life such as those related to addictive processes.

The focus on intuition even opened what other religious traditions might call mysticism. In our model, however, this is firmly founded on natural phenomena.

MYSTICISM (ME. mistik < L. mysticus < Gr. mystikos, belonging to secret rites < mystes, one initiated) 1. the doctrines or beliefs of mystics; specif. the doctrine that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love without the medium of human reason 2. any doctrine that asserts the possibility of attaining knowledge of spiritual truths through intuition acquired by fixed meditation

The experiences that we are referring to as part of mysticism were described by William James and included the following:

states of feeling that include knowledge and insight into depths of truth, illuminations, revelations;

once experienced, the recurrence of the state is recognized and increases in inner richness and importance;

they carry a sense of authority afterward;

the mystical state feels as if the person is grasped and held by a greater power;

enhances the experience of aliveness and energy. [17]

These replicable experiences suggest that the mystical state may coincide with a certain level of integration or openness of Being. The experience of these states was possible when the need for rational understanding was initially set aside and later used in attempting to understand the experience.

Distinction of Faith

With this further openness, we now fully recognized the final Creative Force of Faith in the domain of doing.

Domain

of Being

Experience of

Self-Worth

Expression of

Dignity

Creative Forces

thinking

self-confidence

reason / wisdom

Truth

feeling

self-esteem

empathy/

compassion/

caring

Love

doing

self-competence

courage

Faith

This distinction is not of Faith as a thought or belief, is not dependent on other's actions, or on trusting others or how they are being, but Faith as an action on our part. To act with Faith is to empower, even when we do not know what the response will be. It is acting to open life's possibilities by empowering the worth and dignity of others and ourselves and opening to Creative Forces as described. Thus, "Our faith is in the capacity and responsibility of human beings to act in their personal relationships and in the larger community to help create a better world." We then began to practice this skill, as we recognized now how Faith is like riding a bicycle.

We directed our skill to the block to Faith and its relation to openhandedness. The block that we identified that limits Faith is the fearful expectation that we will be alone or alienated and not supported in our worth and dignity. The fearful image is that we will act with Faith and extend ourselves with openhandedness, but not have the open hand returned in support. Members related this to past experiences of personal loss of faith and experience of alienation from a spiritual source. Often this occurred as members turned away from traditional religion. Our distinction of Faith now allowed new relationships to the powerful and positive forces from participants' religious heritage, and a deeper integration and appreciation of their importance to our Humanism.

Disempowerment of Worth and Dignity

Continued application of these principles identified a frequent limitation to Faith of the "disses" found in our personal interactions, or of how we were Being with others. We were nearly overwhelmed with the array of dis-empowering communications that are possible:

disable / disaccord / disaffect / disaffirm / disagree / disallow / disappoint / disapprove / dissociate / disavow / disbelieve / discard / disclaim / discomfit / discomfort / discompose / disconcert / disconnect / discontent / discord / discount / discourage / discredit / discriminate / disdain / disenable / disengage / disequilibrate / disesteem / disgrace / disgust / disharmonize / dishearten / dishonor / disillusion / disincline / disinterest / disjoin / dislike / disloyal / dismal / dismantle / dismay / dismiss / disobey / disoblige / disorder / disorganize / disorient / disown / disparage / dispart / disperse / dispirit / displace / displeasure / dispose / dispraise / disprove / dispute / disquiet / disregard / disrelish / disrespect / disrupt / dissatisfy / dissemble / dissent / disserve / dissimilate / dissipate / dissolve / dissuade / distance / distaste / distemper / distort / distract / distress / distrust / disturb / disunite / disvalue

Each of these may disempower worth and dignity and was subtly but frequently evident in our own interactions with others.

The Faith Process and Personal Commitments

A practical application of these principles was necessary to strengthen the distinctions and to strengthen Faith of members in the Human Faith Project. Each member committed to a specific personal project whose successful completion would require acting with Faith. Because this involved defining a project without knowing how it would be completed, it required Faith that a personal breakthrough would occur, and bring success. This is acting with Faith.

I had not had contact with my daughter for 8 years due to hurtful past experiences and had no contact with my grandchildren who were 13 and 17 years old. My commitment was to have a satisfying relationship with this daughter within 4 months. I had Faith but no idea how this would successfully occur and there were many fearful expectations to limit pursuing this. I was afraid of rejection, of her response, I didn't know how to do it. The first opportunity came on Father's Day when my grandchildren were visiting their grandmother. I invited them over to a friend's house for a barbecue and was quite nervous. The children were well behaved with high senses of fun: the kind of youngsters any grandparent would be proud of. The afternoon passed quickly and they left for home, leaving behind a satisfied glow. The next step was easier as I asked my daughter if she would like a night off and I would take them out for supper. It turned out that she really needed help that night. On return, they invited me in but I begged off and promised "Next time". The next time came soon when my daughter hurt her leg and was in no condition to prepare supper. When I offered to take the boys to supper, I found myself inviting her to come along too. Supper was a success and when I took them home she invited me in for a chat. I stayed for a while, and she and the boys showed me around the house and we all had a good time. Since then we have had more time together as I am impressed with how she is a single mother holding down a job, raising a family and making a new life for herself and my grandchildren—and they are great. All in all, a win-win situation.—Ted.

After stating his commitment to the group, he began to explore his blocks to this commitment by identifying attitudes, values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, behavior, and expectations. Initial reactions and attitudes might include "I can't do it" or "Hopelessness". Other reactions at this point might be to get anxious the following day with a doubtful question of "Did I take on too much?" Participants were reminded to ask themselves, "Where is the worth and dignity in these reactions?" They were encouraged to act with Faith in the worth and dignity of every person, including themselves, and were asked "What worth and dignity would you have to experience to create the breakthrough and keep the commitment?"

Disempowerment of Pity

One of the difficult and subtle aspects that disempowered members in their commitment was the presence of pity and self-pity which disempowered their Faith in themselves and others.

PITY (ME. pite < Ofr. pitet < L. pietas:see piety) 1. sorrow felt for another's suffering or misfortune, sympathy. Pity implies sorrow felt for another's suffering or misfortune, sometimes connoting slight contempt because the object is regarded as weak or inferior .

The presence of contempt and superiority in pity is not compatible with a commitment to worth and dignity. Neither is an attitude of self-pity that includes a contempt for oneself.

Distinction of Unity

As members shared the experiences of their projects, recognition of these disempowering responses and actions opened the group to a new level of Unity as Love, Truth, and Faith grew stronger. However, even in this secure setting of persons actively demonstrating their commitment to each others' worth and dignity, this experience and distinction of Unity caused reactions similar to those that might limit the growth of any movement such as Humanism, and included 1) Fear of authority and 2) Fear of community.

As the group developed, it experienced a growing Unity which members experienced as authoritarian. This triggered structures from the past of some members.

Facilitator: Some of you seem to have an expectation that you're not going to be treated with worth and dignity.

E: This is weird, I have a thing about being different, about being black—I never assume that people will ever understand about 60% of what I say—so this is fascinating. My expectation of this

might be getting in the way.

Facilitator: That's not just because you're black! This is present with most people.

Another block was the feeling of jealousy as some members envied the enthusiasm of other members, but were afraid or unable to open themselves fully to their experience.

D: I've had trouble with B in the group. I believe it's because I really admire him and his enthusiasm but he intimidates me and I don't want to say anything. I just get too afraid to be like that.

Unity and closeness also brought fears of community and belonging which limited progress:

B:..but I hate groupness, I never liked groupness, because it's so frightening to me¼.How do I know we're not going to wind up...not come to Jonestown, the Crucible…and I get frightened about that with myself when I get these ideas.

To further process, we identified past experiences that were blocking us. Usually these were related to family experiences earlier in life related to experiences of not belonging, not being accepted or acknowledged, or not feeling alive or whole.

Members acknowledged the dignity that they were Being, the compassion and caring for each other, the courage to face fears and even despair, and the wisdom to discover and do what they needed and help each other. Members were empowered as we recognized the drive for this Unity within human experience and potentially among all humanity.

Furthermore, these experiences provided an expanded empathy and compassion for the Humanism of various religious traditions. We recognized how these Creative Forces are important parts of most traditional religions with their experience and source often expressed by the word "God." Our process and distinctions were similar to that of Christianity with an emphasis in love that is embodied in Jesus Christ as the sacrifice of God's love and in the winning combination of Faith (God the Father), Love (God the Son), and Truth (God the Holy Spirit or Word). Some members even experienced a conversion similar to that of the born-again Christian, or what William James speaks of as the twice-born. We identified elements similar to Judaism with its emphasis on Truth and its Talmudic endeavors and mystical excursions of the Kabbala without the more fantastic elements. [18] Many of the concepts and experiences in the developing Muslim-Humanist dialogue were involved. [19] We recognized how the power of religious fervor and religious wars of Fundamentalists are perverted attempts to empower through Unity to unleash the Creative Forces, except that these acts actually involve the confusion of "empowerment" with "power as domination", which is ultimately damaging to human worth and dignity.

Beginning with Faith and making a commitment to the worth and dignity of every person, we had experienced a transformational Faith Process which led to distinguishing the experiences discussed, and developed an openness to the Creative Forces of Love, Truth, and Faith. These insights and principles can provide a foundation for all of Humanism. This writing is an invitation for people within and without Humanism to unite with this universal commitment to the worth and dignity of every person; to practice and strengthen these distinctions until we can empower all religions, businesses, and governments to meaningfully adopt this as their commitment. This would truly lead to a Unity of the human spirit, expressed diversely through the traditions of Humanism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the many others.



[1] Edward Frost, ed., With Purpose and Principle: Essays About the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism. (Boston: Skinner House, 1998).

[2] John Dewey. A Common Faith. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980).

[3] Victoria Neufeldt, ed., Webster's New World College Dictionary, third ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1997).

[4] Jean Piaget & Barbel Inhelder. The Psychology of the Child. (New York: Basic Books, 1969).

[5] Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanist Press, 1997), vii.

[6] Susan Harter, "Causes, Correlates, and the Functional Role of Global Self-Worth: A Life-Span Perspective" in Robert Sternberg and John Kolligian, eds., Competence Considered (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) 67-97.

[7] Bracken, Bruce, ed., Handbook of Self-Concept: Developmental, Social and Clinical Considerations (New York: Wiley and Sons, 1996), Harter, op. cit.

[8] Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982).

[9] Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminist Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

[10] William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970) 70.

[11] William James, Varieties. 59.

[12] L. T. Hobhouse, Morals In Evolution (London: Chapman & Hall, 1951) 459.

[13] Martin Buber. I and Thou. second ed., tr. Ronald G. Smith (New York: Scribner's, 1958).

[14] Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970).

[15] James, Varieties.

[16] David Elkins. "Psychotherapy and Spirituality: Toward a Theory of the Soul." J. of Humanistic Psychology  35.2 (1995).

[17] James, Varieties. 291-301.

[18] David Cooper. God Is A Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism (New York: Riverhead Books, 1997).

[19] Hasan Askari & Jon Avery. Towards a Spiritual Humanism: A Muslim-Humanist Dialogue (UK: Seven Mirrors, 1991).

 


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