Posts Tagged ‘Humanism’


Jonathan Eberhart 1942-2003

Lately I’ve been thinking about Jonathan Eberhart. Jonathan was a singer, amateur folklorist, gourmand, polyglot, and widely esteemed science journalist (he was the space exploration editor for Science News, and today there is an award in his name). He was also a family friend who I knew and admired from the time I was born. When I was five, he started teaching me Japanese, and I still remember a few words.

As a songwriter Jonathan was a true poet. One of his best songs, “Dawn,” retells the biblical story of creation – “not for religious reasons,” he wrote, “but simply to suggest the beauty and importance of a long-awaited occasion.” The lyrics are stunningly beautiful:

I’ll tell you a tale of the way the world grew
If I had the power I’d give it to you.
On the first day was nothing, neither left nor to right,
Till a voice rang eternal, saying “Let there be light.”

Yet the light omnipresent little wonder did yield.
‘Twas the coming of darkness light’s glory revealed.
One turn of the wheel, and daylight is gone,
But it’s night that enables the birth of the dawn.

That song helped me find a way into a part of the Bible that made no sense to me as a Religious Humanist. When I was younger, and thought of such texts as serious attempts by our ancestors to understand how the world came into being, I thought the creation stories worse than pointless, because they seemed to undermine anything worthwhile I might find in the rest of the book. They were magical, they contradicted each other, and they just didn’t make sense. That some people use these stories as justification for denying the truths of science bothered me even more.

Jonathan, who was in no way religious, found wonder and poetry in that old story, and as I listened to that song through the years, I began to find it too. I learned, as I have so many times before and since, that there are more kinds of truth than facts. There is insight, beauty, a sense of wonder, and an honoring of the world.

Jonathan’s song helped inspire a service I’m putting together this week on creation stories from various traditions, something Unitarian Universalists rarely talk about.  I’m learning “Dawn” for the occasion. It feels good, after so many years, to give voice this part of my spiritual journey and our religious heritage. It feels right to find new truths in old stories, to tell them again, to let the mythology be what it is and search for deeper truths.  It makes sense in every way to sing the beauty of the dawn.

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There are a lot of reasons to celebrate the step that the Boy Scouts of America took this week.  Ending the ban on gay scouts is a significant change, and an acknowledgement of just how far our country has come in the past few decades.  It is not, however, enough.  As long as the Boy Scouts continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and religion, I cannot support them.

It pains me to say this.  I have seen how much good the Scouts can do in a boy’s life, watched the Scouts help boys grow into thoughtful, sensitive leaders with an ethic of volunteerism and a love of the outdoors.  I honor these young men for all they have achieved, and will give them all the recognition they are due.  At their best, the Boy Scouts are an organization few others can match.

But discrimination is wrong.  The Boy Scouts now accept gay boys only to tell them implicitly that they are second class – good enough to be grudgingly accepted by the troop, perhaps, but never good enough to be Scout leaders or staff.  These boys may be included, but as long as the Scouts promote this kind of bias, they will never be welcome.

I would love to see the day when the Scouts end all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and will honor the move when it (inevitably) happens – but I will still not be able to support the Boy Scouts of America.  How could I, knowing that as a Humanist Unitarian Universalist, I would not be welcome?

With all the attention the Scouts’ policy toward gays has received, few news outlets have focused much on the Scouts’ ban against atheists.  Simply put, if you do not believe in God, you cannot be a Boy Scout.  You cannot work for the Boy Scouts.  You are unwelcome.

I find this unconscionable.  That an organization which purports to represent American values blatantly discriminates on the basis of religious belief violates the most fundamental principles of this country.  It is an insult to our forebears, and a terrible lesson to teach boys and young men.

Theologically, the ban on atheists makes no sense at all, because once you’ve said you believe in God, you haven’t said very much.  My own theology is non-theistic, but it would be easy enough to give what I do believe the name “God.”  I know many people who do; it just isn’t the language I typically choose.

It saddens me that the policy against atheists stands, and also that it has received so little attention.  Does the public really believe that atheist scouts and leaders present some sort of threat?  Do the Scouts?

I suspect the answer is more simple – most people simply do not know about the ban on atheists, and the freedom not to believe in God, while sacrosanct in our Constitution, is seldom lifted and honored.

One day I hope to support the Boy Scouts; I admire what they do.  One day I hope they will find the integrity to let go of policies that belittle boys and men for who they are and what they believe.  When that day comes, I will be the first to applaud.

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