by Herb Burdeaux
September 19, 2017 6PM (-8 GMT)
Seattle, WA, USA
We all have our story of how we found humanism, or like me, stumbled into it.
Humanism being the great outlook of thought that attaches prime importance to human beings, rather than divine or supernatural entities.
I was raised on an Indian Reservation in Montana, where my aunt and uncle ran a Pentecostal “Holy Roller” church, which put great importance on “The Holy Ghost” or “Holy Spirit” as some would call it. The holy ghost being the third guy of the holy trinity, god and Jesus being the other two. As a child watching people and family do these wild dances, it infecting everyone around, people being touched, or even those just invoking the spirit’s name, and people would fall all over themselves with drunken blessings from it. Which I thought was kind of fun and silly to watch, but there they were, going at it. Me eating my crackers, watching the show, listening to those screaming-and-crying the gospel music. After it was done, it was like nothing ever happened. I would ask my dad later, wanting to know why, why did they do all that, what was happening, what was the reason? All he could tell me was, “So we can get into heaven.”
As time went on, and I would ask my dad more and more of why we did things, and his answer each time was the same, “So we can get into heaven”. That was when I started to question what was happening, “Wait a minute, everything is to get into heaven?” But, why? He could not tell me that, and I would ask others and they seemed to not know why either? I wanted to know why if I played cards, I was going to hell; why if I thought a bad thought I was going to hell, or why if I thought of liking another boy, I was going to hell? Why!? The closest answer they could give me was that it was in the bible and that was why.
So, I began my adventure. At 13 years of age, I went and found a few different copies of the bible: the King James Version, the Pentecostal Fire Bible, and the Modern Day New Testament. I read them… looking for answers as to why we were doing what we were doing. And after months of looking and searching, there were no answers, aside from the typical “So we can get into heaven.” I did not find the answers I was looking for – my questions why we should or shouldn’t do things? (I did note the similarities of my tribe’s original religion, with the Great Spirit, how it fit right in with the Pentecostal Holy Spirit / Holy Ghost).
In middle school, I would visit the public library and I came across books of different religions thus starting a collection. I read through them to see if they might tell me why. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism… all these came back to me with pretty much the same answer to why we must do things this way and not that way: for spiritual-enlightenment, for nirvana, for heaven. These answers were not good enough for me. I was at a loss… but, I came close. I came across Confucianism which had a lot of logical everyday rational thoughts and answers: mainly cause-and-effect reasoning, such as “you do this” and then “this happens.” But then again, it too could not tell me why we should or shouldn’t do them.
Then one day when I was about twenty years old, I came across a television show called Star Trek. Everything in the show seemed to have a reason, a reason for why they did and didn’t do things. None of those reasons involved religion or any higher powers. After watching and re-watching, I found what I was looking for. It was not religion. It was ethics. Ethics is why we do and don’t do the actions we make. These actions are either right-or-wrong, good-or-bad. I then went through every book I could find on Star Trek to see where they got their ideas. These notions of morality they were telling as I found it, was from the author Gene Roddenberry. He was the creator of the television show Star Trek and he used it to tell ethical-morality stories in the late sixties. And with his second series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987, he was awarded in 1991 the Humanist Arts Award by the American Humanist Association for his humanist point-of-view on racial, political, and the human condition he showed through his and his writers’ storytelling.
Gene Roddenberry’s humanism was pretty simple: Humanism = Logic + Compassion + Ethics. He wrote these as his main characters for the show: Spock, the science officer being logic; Dr. McCoy being Compassion; and Captain Kirk being Ethics. Kirk decided between Spock’s arguments for logic and McCoy’s for compassion while trying to make ethical decisions between the two in each episode. And all this without a god or deity to assist them.
One of Roddenberry’s favorite quotes was, “Ancient astronauts didn’t build the pyramids. Human beings built the pyramids, because they’re clever and they work hard.”
Thinking back, I did come close with Confucianism. It had logic and ethics… but it lacked “compassion” of which humanism has: caring what happens to people. I am glad I continued my search to “why we do and don’t do things.” Now I know “why” and it is for logical, compassionate, and ethics reasons… humanist reasons. They are the right things to do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Herb Burdeaux is a culinary and hospitality professional, with a BA in Hospitality Management from South Seattle College; a Native American of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana; and a Humanist Lay Leader with the Humanist Celebrant Society of the American Humanist Association.