Workshop at the Annual Conference 2010 ‘Religion and Social Justice’
“The world’s religions could be major agents in building a good human future if they would abandon rival truth claims and embrace an agenda of creative kindness.”
The concept of religious humanism
What do we mean by ‘religion’?
How you live your life A set of beliefs
A way of framing things to be meaningful Totality and diversity – how you feel reality
The sum of our values A community of belonging – and of excluding
Bridge between the community and the divine Pontifex maximus – telling you what to believe
Awe and mysticism Applying/ascribing human properties to the divine
An attempt to manage the unmanageable Drawing back the curtain
An attempt to imagine the unimaginable – terror and death Fatalism
Morality and spirituality Passing the buck
How is religion part of the problem?
Intolerance Exclusivism
Blindness to reality Limitation to a narrow set of beliefs
Holy wars Male domination
Persecution and cruelty Misuse of power
Blighting individual lives through Bigotry
Shrunken personalities
Control of sexuality: “If you’ve got them by the balls the hearts and minds will follow”
Monotheism Organisational centrality

How can religion be part of the solution?
Life is not a rehearsal Make the best of now
Religion in everyday speech – Don Ecumenism in the 1960’s
Agreeing to work together in the things we have in common
Accepting, respecting and valuing diversity Look, share and understand, leading to action
Mutual support, inspiration, encouragement (analogous to a large gene pool in evolution)
leads to making the world better
How can Sea of Faith help?
Our wide definition of ‘religion’ (see above). Is that the same as ‘spiritual’?
Integrity – the bad things about religion taken into account – intellectual honesty.
Avoiding prejudicial value judgements – dividing things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
We studied the concept of “Religious Humanism’ as set out in ‘Religion and the Human Future’ by David Klemm and William Schweiker (Wiley-Blackwell 2008, ISBN 978-1-4051-5527-4)
Three excerpts below
Overhumanization and Hypertheism (page 13)
To be human is to be engaged constantly in the task of world-making, culture creation. We are profoundly social creatures and also beings that must, come what may, make sense of our lives. Outside of the bonds of society, existence would be meaningless and wretched. Human beings imagine the struggles and vulnerabilities of existence within meaningful forms in order to buttress, console, and inspire their lives. We unavoidably seek to “humanize” reality, make it our own, in order to share it with others.
There is a downside to the work of culture creation. In the current age, human power more and more intervenes to direct the dynamics of life on this planet. Régis Debray writes that increasingly people in advanced nations live within “transistorized, fiber-optically cabled, air-conditioned, video-surveilled surroundings. Night and day are awash in man-made light. Little seems outside the human realm in which spirit can live and move. There is a loss of a sense of what transcends human meanings. The advancement of human power and purposes has ironically meant the loss of the human dimension of life. Debray rightly observes that “humans still crave, in order to breathe, non-human spaces.”
The triumph of human power in shaping reality is what we call “over- humanization.” The idea designates a social condition in which what possesses real worth, what should orient actions and social relations, is the extension of the human power to shape and create realities. To be sure, the inscribing of forms of life within cultural projects, symbolic forms, and power is meant to further human flourishing. This project has brought advances in knowledge, the lessening of disease and want, and the formation of freer and more open democratic societies. Yet it has also led to the profaning of life through wars, ecological endangerment, and cultural banality. Part of overhumanization is also the unjust distribution of its goods — say, medicine, clean water, stable social orders — and the unfair distribution of destructive features of modern societies: pollution, environmental damage, lack of access to hi-tech resources, astonishing poverty. Overhumanization is a term for the inner distortion or flaw of humanism. It is a now a challenge to the human future.
The worldwide resurgence of the religions over the last century has exposed a contradiction within theism analogous to that found in the legacies of humanism. Often reacting to a virulent secularism and legacies of power arid injustice associated with the “modern West;’ the religions have become global political, social, and cultural forces. On this vision, to he human is to be responsive to the divine will as it reveals itself in culture and history. Many anthropologists and historians of religion hold that cultures of the past have been religious. Human beings can be construed as homo rcligiosus. Outside of rehgious communities with their sacred traditions arid their communions with deity, life would he empty and senseless. Human beings belong not to themselves and their puny designs, but to God alone. Theists take joy and hope in their ultimate purpose of pleasing God. Presently, we see the resurgence of theism after its waning in the modern age, often in the most secular parts of the world.’° Theistic religions have relieved suffering, furthered human dignity and self-determination, arid advanced understanding among the world’s peoples. These religions in certain forms and at certain times are also forces of destruction, obscurantism, and opponents to knowledge and science. The appeal to conform to God will has too often and too readily been used to destructive ends.
The distortion in religion works much like the flaw in humanization. It is the attempt to enfold life within a specific understanding of “God” when “God” is only rightly known and loved within the confines of one special community. In truth, God is not a Christian God or a Muslim God or
a Jewish God or a Hindu God or a Buddhist God. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has rightly noted, “God is the God of all humanity, but between Babel and the end of days no single faith is the faith of all humanity.” The diversity of human faiths does not necessarily imply a diversity of gods. Yet insofar is members of any religion claim ultimate truth for their all-too-human conception of the divine, it is riot clear what status other communities can and ought to have in orienting society.
“Hypertheism” is the term we use for the conviction of a community or tradition that its faith and interpretation of God are one and the same with the divine, obviously true and ultimately real. Hypertheism claims that one’s vision of God and it alone is sufficient to speak of the mystery, power, and truth of the divine. Accordingly, human life must become enfolded within that community’s vision and faith and every aspect of existence made to conform to its convictions about God. Hypertheism is a term for the flaw of theistic religion that endangers the meaning and purpose of diverse forms of human life.
Hypertheism and overhumanization are concepts for internal distortions of theism and humanism and which also necessarily pit religion against humanism. Ironically, they are both forms of over-reach on the part of human beings, either in terms of the radical extension of human power beyond bounds or in terms of claims to know without failure or distortion the will of God. It is not surprising, then, that there are thinkers and movements who reject any form of humanism, secular or religious. Humanism is false on this account not only because it focuses on the worth of actual human beings to the seeming exclusion of other living beings, but because it tries to explain the working of complex systems solely with reference to the lives and actions of individual human agents. The rejection of the priority of human agency is one defining feature of contemporary forms of secular anti-humanism. Likewise, it is understandable that other thinkers and movements disclaim all forms of theism and especially the idea of one supreme divine agent. Theism is wrong in this view both because it denies other religious communities and because it believes in a supernatural divine agent somehow operating within a universe otherwise functioning according to natural laws. These claims fuel the fires of religious and secular post-theism.
Anti-humanism is not somehow anti-human. It means, rather, an outlook that rejects humanistic assumptions about the forces that define the world. To be human is to be part of some larger whole, and it is this whole, variously defined, that must be explored in order to understand the proper measure of human social life. Similarly, post-theism does not signify atheism, a stance that rejects all theology or discourse about God. Post-theism tries to affirm and reformulate religious sensibilities within contemporary structures of thought and experience. It displays a humility of thinking which backs off the triumphalism of much theistic religion. As seen later in this essay, both anti-humanism and post-theism grasp insights that are important for theological humanism.

A Way of Living (page 169)
A theological humanist lives through the religions rather than apart from them. One undertakes the discipline of living freely within a particular religion. The human future needs the contribution of the religions, but it needs only self-reforming religions that are dedicated to the integrity of life as the manifestation of divine life and the human good. Religious people should undertake the free and serious work of reform that will enable them to live more fully, completely, and responsibly Why, given all of the problems that currently afflict the religions and which so often set them against each other in spiteful antagonism, do we propose to work through and not against or apart from the religions?
Theological humanism is not a specific philosophy or a new kind of religion, although it implies philosophical commitments and religious sensibilities. As mortal and time-bound creatures, human beings live, think, love, worship, and die in specific communities. Accordingly, to be a theological humanist cannot mean that somehow one must stop being a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a South African, an American, a German, or some cornbination. At issue is how one inhabits, lives through, the many identities that shape any person’s or community’s actual life. This is the work of freedom and responsibility under the dictates of the cosmopolitan conscience, as argued in chapter 7. As a theological humanist, one freely decides to inhabit openly and critically the social and religious forces that have shaped one’s life for the sake of respecting and enhancing the integrity of life. One cultivates the goods of life in oneself and in others, works to educate conscience, and also undertakes reflection on how meaningfully to orient existence, personal and social. A theological humanist undertakes that way of life within an abiding commitment to the imperative of responsibility with its complcxity and in dedication to life with and for others.

Manifesto (page 174)
Theological humanism means developing fundamental moods and attitudes that can ground habits of thinking and acting. Fundamental moods are ways of being open to truth, beauty, and goodness in the world, wherever they may appear. Moods of joy, dread, and courage; faith, hope, and love; awe, gratitude, and humility; compassion, generosity, and good will — these moods inform the heart of theological humanism. Fundamental moods are more than ways of being open to sources of meaning and worth; they are ways of actively seeking out the goodness in this world. To live as a theological humanist one vigilantly seeks the life of integrity in oneself and in others. A life so dedicated will become different through its call and commitment to see the truth of things and to serve goodness.
To inhabit a tradition self-critically means to apply the norm of the integrity of life to every aspect of the community’s beliefs and practices. Theological humanists who are Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or ...) and wish to remain within their religion have a mandate to .judge how that religious outlook is lived and expressed. It is to live religiously in a free and responsible way. It becomes incumbent upon religious people to work for the change they desire within their chosen communities. Appreciate whatever brings the integrity of life; criticize whatever demeans and destroys it. And in all things, seek a humane future for life in its many forms as the dedication in one’s religious life.
We began this essay by noting conflicts among different attitudes towards the resources of Western culture and the religions: humanistic, religious, and open but skeptical attitudes. We took that as a signal about deep flaws in cultural and religious resources and the range of possible responses to those flaws. We have tried to articulate, analyze, and respond to those flaws that arise within the legacy of this civilization. Yet we have also provided a portrait, a sketch, of a way to inhabit religious and cultural resources that seeks to meet the future responsibly and hopefully.
This essay has sought, in other words, to meet an interpretive and practical challenge of our age in a way that thwarts the celebration of power that can and does lead to the clash among peoples and also the wanton destruction of other forms of life. In this respect, an essay is a practical wager and not a proof. It is not a proof, because life is in the living and not in arguments. The wager is that by living theological humanism within religious traditions, it is possible to respect and enhance the integral relations of forms of life, natural, human, and divine. That is the challenge and possibility of religion and the human future.

Should the concept of ‘religious humanism’ be a guide to the future of the Sea of Faith Network?