…Without God Secular Vision for a Changing World (Exercise #1)

In the March/April 2017 issue of the Humanist magazine, Tom Krattenmaker of the Yale Humanist Community calls the time we’re currently living in “The New Secular Moment.” With the surge of religiously unaffiliated individuals in the US population and the falling away of old beliefs, Krattenmaker urges secular people to seize the moment to present their positive new vision. To do so, we must go beyond traditional concerns and consider two key questions:

What is a positive articulation of secular life that can make us an asset for each other, for our communities, and for the world? How can we create meaning for ourselves and each other and cultivate lives that are deeply and fully lived?

I invite all readers to answer these questions and contribute to a forceful new vision. To this end, I propose a series of thought exercises that I hope will plumb our richest sources of insight and offer some entertainment at the same time. Those who are interested can submit their responses to the prompt, and a selection of these will appear with future exercises. With enough participation, the hope is to expand our efforts into a book.

Let’s start with the basics.


Exercise 1: What’s So Special about Human Life?

It was winter, 2005. A humanist group I belong to decided to celebrate the winter humanist holiday of HumanLight by attending a wonderful planetarium show at a local community college. After the show, the group moved to a restaurant for friendly conversation, music, an interesting talk, and our holiday meal.

When guests had settled into their seats, I, as emcee, announced that something amazing had happened. I told the gathered crowd that before we left the planetarium, the manager there had handed me a very special communication. I opened an envelope and read to everyone a letter that I said had been transcribed from signals coming from deep space. A high school student from a distant galaxy had been observing the Earth and came up with the idea of writing a term paper on what seemed like an interesting species, namely humans. If we had enough intelligence to understand and respond to the request, would we please send back some observations to help him/her/it write a good and accurate report?

I handed out some index cards for this purpose, which I later collected and read to the group. Two responses that I recall represent the range of thoughts. The first one read, in its entirety: “carbon-based life form.” While true, I told the group I thought this was only the beginning of what we might say about being human. Perhaps I was wrong to downplay the answer; it might say quite a bit to our extraterrestrial student whose chemistry was likely quite different than ours.

The other answer I thought said quite a bit read: “Never satisfied. Whenever we score a goal, we move the goal posts.” This answer spoke, succinctly, some truths to me about our species, about how we always think about moving forward, whether that serves us well or not.

So, what would you say about the human species to an alien being from a high school far, far away?