Humanistic Judaism Answers Some Questions about Death and Mourning

Humanistic Judaism, Winter 1978, Vol. VI, Number I

Responses by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine 

Interview by Jacqueline Zigman 

MEDITATIONS AND PHILOSOPHY 

Q. Since Humanistic Jews would find the traditional mourning services inappropriate, what meditations might they find useful? 

  1. We as Humanistic Jews ought to articulate our philosophy of life at the crisis of death. Meditations, both public and private, can be used for this purpose. These meditations are alternatives to the recitation of the traditional Kaddish. Many Humanistic Jews are uncomfortable with the Kaddish because it is fundamentally a praise of God. In the situation where a deceased relative or friend had requested the Kaddish, the Humanistic Jew obliges by finding a substitute who truly believes in saying this prayer. Humanistic Jews promote their integrity by saying publicly only what is consistent with their convictions. 

Suggested Meditations: 

Death is something individual. Against the collective stream of life it seems powerless. Particular flowers fade and die; but every spring repeats them in the cycle of nature. Individual man is a brief episode and is devoured by death; but mankind bears the marks of immortality, renewed in every generation by the undying spark of life. We are, each of us, greater than ourselves. We survive in the children we create; we endure in the humanity we serve. 

As an individual, separate and distinct, each of us is temporary, a short chapter in the story of the universe. As a part of the neverending process of life, each of us is immortal, a wave in the eternal flow of vital energy. The leaves of last year’s summer have died and vanished into the soil of mother earth. But, in a special sense, each lives on in the revival of every spring. Every man dies, but mankind survives. Every living thing perishes, but life persists. 

The past is unchangeable. What happened yesterday is beyond our control. We can cry and shout. We can scream and complain. But the events of just a moment ago are as far from our reach as the farthest star. The fool never forgives the past. He devotes every present moment to worrying about it, scolding it, and wishing it were different. 

Memory is a precious possession. It captures the past and trains it to our needs. The harshness of old events is softened by vagueness and the pleasure of happy moments sharpened by vivid imagination. Loved ones linger on in the glory of their individual uniqueness. In life they willed to live and hewed the path of their personal difference. In death they transcend decay and find their niche in fond remembrance. No man is defined by the sameness of another; if it were so, memory would die from generalities. 

Death hovers over every deed of man, over every action he performs. For some men death is an obsession, destroying their pleasure and filling their soul with anxious fears. For others death is a challenge prompting them to enjoy life while they live and urging them to taste their talents while they can. These men are men of dignity who respond to death with courage and to life with zest. 

The glories of our universe are never eternal. They shine for a while and are then consumed by the darkness. All things change. All life yields to death. If the beauties of nature endured forever, they would not be precious. We cannot love what we do not fear to lose. 

Freedom is the power to release the past. It is the good humor (sic) to give up what cannot be altered-the easiness to surrender what cannot be changed. Countless men and women live in the prison of their past. They are the tortured victims of their memories. They are the martyr slaves of their regrets. The present and the future hold no special challenge to them. They are merely opportune moments to reflect on old pleasure and an old pain. What might have been is an obsession. What could be is scarcely a thought. 

The free man learns from the past. But he does not live there. He does not seek to recapture old pain. He works to achieve new pleasures. He does not need to survive on the faded memories of faded happiness. He strives to create new joy. He uses the past to fashion a more interesting future. 

We often run away from life. We think of death and are obsessed by it. The threat of aging fills us with dread and casts a shadow over all our youthful pleasures. The end of our story ruins the middle and sours the taste of our happiness. Why bother to pursue what must pass away? Why bother to value what must cease to be? 

PRE-DEATH ARRANGEMENTS 

Q. Since humanists affirm responsibility for their lives, it would seem fitting that they should make their own death arrangements. What pre-death arrangements can humanists make? 

  1. EUTHANASIA-We as Humanistic Jews do not believe the purpose of life is mere survival. We  believe the purpose of life is survival with dignity. When survival with dignity is no longer possible, we affirm our right to choose to die. Euthanasia is an appropriate alternative to involuntary death when there is terminal illness and physical humiliation. If we can not arrange in advance to guarantee our right to dignity we shall, like most people, become victims of guilty relatives and timid physicians. Legally our moral right to euthanasia has not yet been granted, but we can apply moral pressure on our surivvors by signing a document called The Living Will. Copies of The Living Will may be obtained from Euthanasia Educational Council, 250 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019. A tax-deductible contribution is appropriate when sending for copies. 

PARTIAL DONATION-The organs are removed from the body to be used for transplants or research programs. Both of these processes aid in improving the quality of life. The following organization have a desperate need for organs: 

Deafness Research Foundation, 366 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10617 

Michigan Eye Bank-Wayne State University, 540 East Canfield Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48201 (Note: each state has its own eye bank) 

Human Growth Inc. (Pituitary Gland), 307 Fifth Avenue, new York, New York 10016 

Kidney Foundation of Michigan, 3378 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48014 (Note: each state has its own Kidney Foundation) 

Whole donation-Whole body donation allows you to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge. This new knowledge is used to benefit those people in need of medical care. The entire body must be donated with no organs removed except the eyes. Also, there is no expense to the daily for transportation, casket or disposal of the body. Inquiries should be made of medical schools in your area. 

CREMATION-Most Humanistic Jews prefer cremation to burial. This preference is defined in three ways: 

  1. Historically, burial was performed because of the traditional belief in the resurrection of the dead. Therefore the function of burial is negated by its contradiction to reality. 
  1. In an overpopulated world with limited space, cremation is the more reasonable method of disposal. 
  1. The quick finality of cremation has more aesthetic appeal then the traditional custom of dumping remains to rot. 

MEMORIAL SERVICES 

Q. What are appropriate settings for a Humanistic Jewish memorial service? 

  1. TEMPLE-Our Temple is our family home and we feel it should be used for sad as well as happy occasions. Therefore, we feel it appropriate to have the memorial service at the Birmingham Temple. It is not necessary to the body present, arrangements can be made with the funeral director. 

           HOME-Another available option for the Humanistic Jew is for the memorial 

           service to be performed in a home. The body need not be present. 

FUNERAL CHAPEL-Another alternative. 

See MEDITATIONS AND PHILOSOPHY at the beginning of this interview for suggested readings at the memorial service. 

MOURNING 

Q. What mourning procedures can Humanist Jews follow comfortably? 

  1. Most Humanistic Jews need the support and understanding of a loving community. There are various ways in which family, friends and the congregation may help. 

RECEIVING VISITORS-traditional mourning required a seven day period of fasting, abstinence and immobility after death. The purpose of this shiva (7 days) was to divert the anger of God. For Humanistic Jews such activity is inappropriate. However, the custom of visiting mourners is still very appropriate. Most people enjoy the empathy and understanding of their family and friends during the crisis of death. We as Humanistic Jews can choose to remain home to receive visitors after the memorial service. If we do so, the number of days that we remain at home is up to our own personal feelings. Such a response is equally valid. If visiting is desired, there is no reason why sadness and solemnity should prevail. We can best honor the dead by affirming their joy and not by dramatizing their sadness. 

YAHRZEIT-The word Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word meaning anniversary. It refers to the traditional custom of remembering the dead on the anniversary of their death. It is traditional on the yahrzeit day to kindle a light which burns all day in memory of the loved one. It is also customary in many Conservative and Reform congregations to read the name of the loved one on the Sabbath preceding the yahrzeit. It would therefore be appropriate to kindle such a light. We also find meaning in the public recitation of the name of our loved one, since we can then share their memory with the congregational family. However, many of us need no ceremony to remember. Some HumanisticJ ews may regard both candles and public announcements as irrelevant and intrusive. We respect their rights to remember privately. Tradition determines the yahrzeit date fby the use of the Hebrew lunar calendar. Since no Jew in his daily life uses this calendar, calculation is awkward and makes anniversary (sic) hard to determine. Common sense indicates that we use the universal Roman calendar to determine this date, since this calendar has become the effective way of counting time for all Jews. 

YIZKOR-Yizkor is a Hebrew word meaning memorial. It refers to a public memorial service which is held traditionally 4 times a year–Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret. We as Humanistic Jews believe that a public memorial service during which the entire Temple family can share the experience with mutual support is useful and desirable. However, repetition within a short period of time usually dulls the effect of most important events. We therefore regard it as appropriate to hold such a memorial service on Yom Kippur afternoon. 

MEMORIAL STONES-Markers are appropriate to burial sites since Humanistic Jews believe in both discretion and simplicity as aesthetic virtues. Markers should be small and fairly inconspicuous. Large and ostentatious memorial stones are inappropriate. The most desirable kind of marker would be a small stone or metal marker parallel to the ground. 

UNVEILINGS-Ceremonies of unveilings are neither traditional nor psychologically desirable. They are American inventions which have no deep roots in Jewish history. Unveiling ceremonies tend to be unnecessary second funerals. They needlessly awake old grief. The proper memorial is either the yahrzeit or yizkor ceremonies. 

Women and Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism, Vol 25-26, No 4-1, Autumn 1997_Winter 1998

Feminism is one of the most important social movements of the last two centuries. The liberation of women has more than historic significance. Above all, it has moral significance. From a humanistic perspective the freeing of women from male oppression and exploitation was ethically necessary. 

Respect for the dignity, equality, and talent of women is certainly humanistic. But it is not traditional. Prior to modern times there was no feminist reality in the Jewish or non-Jewish world. In a society dominated by agriculture, the primary role of women is reproduction and child rearing. The liberation of women depends on mass urbanization and the diminished need to produce children for cheap labor. When expectations rise, when children become both expensive and parasitic, when prosperity produces the cult of happiness and self-fulfillment, and when opportunities for female work emerge outside the home, then feminism is possible. These conditions have existed only in modern times. 

Traditional Judaism, whether priestly or rabbinic, is the enemy of feminism. In that respect it is no different from traditional Christianity, traditional Islam, or traditional Hinduism. Torah Judaism views women as a source of sin. Their menstrual blood defiles the territory they touch, and their immoral ambition can be checked only by male domination. Talmud Judaism sees women as the agents of frivolous and dangerous diversions. Conversing with them leads men into lewdness. No good can come from granting women either power or freedom.  

The opposition between feminism and traditional Judaism is very difficult for many modern Jews to accept. They want to believe that the roots of their feminist convictions lie in the ethics of the Jewish past. The apparent discontinuity offends their need to affirm the Jewishness of their values.  

How do Jews cope with this ideological discomfort? Many of them try to find support for their feminism in the literature of rabbinic Judaism. Since this endorsement is not there, they rip texts out of their ideological context and appropriate any obscure comment that might be regarded as pro-woman. The sadness in this effort is the need to be “kosherized” by these texts. Some liberals cannot listen to the past. They insist on using it for their ideological agenda. 

Feminism is morally right and appropriate even if our rabbinic and priestly fathers did not approve of it. The validity of an ethical value does not depend on the endorsement of the past, and the Jewishness of an ethical value does not depend on its being old. The experience of Jewish people in modern times is sufficient justification for its rightness. If there is any historic Jewish involvement with feminism, it lies in the fact that Jews were early pioneers in the urbanization of the western world. But that development is not endorsed by traditional texts. Jewish feminism has no significant past. It has only a present and a future. 

Four issues comprise the Jewish feminist agenda in the contemporary world. The first is the integration of women into all aspects of community life. The segregation of Jewish women denies them equality. The second is the opportunity to become community leaders, whether leadership means being president of the congregation or being the rabbi. Exclusion from any leadership role is morally unacceptable. The third is the need to make the language of celebration woman-inclusive. Inclusive language means that women share power and dignity with men. The fourth is resistance to any attempt to turn the obvious differences between men and women into an excuse for proclaiming female inferiority. Men are neither more intellectual nor less emotional than women are. 

Jewish feminism cannot be nostalgic. It has to be creative. It has to promote policies and practices that are new to Jewish life. Morality overrides tradition. Humanistic Judaism and other liberal Judaisms have to create what priestly and rabbinic Judaism failed to provide. 

A creative Jewish feminism must be based on six grounding principles: 

  1. A creative Jewish feminism does not fight the past. It listens to the voices of the past even though it does not approve. 
  1. A creative Jewish feminism retells and rewrites Jewish history to emphasize the important contributions of women to Jewish life despite the hostility of the rabbis and the establishment literature. Most of these intellectual and artistic gifts were made in modern times. 
  1. A creative Jewish feminism actively resists any attempt to force non-Orthodox Jews to participate in gender segregation at any public Jewish event outside an Orthodox synagogue. 
  1. A creative Jewish feminism actively recruits women for leadership roles in the community. It assists women who want to become rabbis and helps them find employment. 
  1. A creative Jewish feminism insists on inclusive language, even if familiar songs, prayers, and reflections thereby become less familiar. The dignity of women must take precedence over nostalgia. 
  1. A creative Jewish feminism produces a new Jewish literature celebrating female equality and power and incorporates this new literature into Jewish education and celebrations. 

Homosexuality: A Challenge to Traditional Morality

Humanistic Judaism,Vol 25, No 1-2, Winter_Spring 1997

Homosexuality is the hottest moral issue of the late 1990s because it strikes at the very heart of traditional morality. 

What we call “traditional morality” is the hand-me-down ethic of an agricultural society. The fundamental social unit of a peasant culture is the family. The family works or grazes the land and subsists on its produce. The cultivation of land requires cheap and plentiful labor. Having and raising children is the easiest way to provide that labor. Especially when infant mortality is high, reproduction is the primary responsibility of all family members. To abstain from procreation violates the law of survival. The traditional family is reinforced by the institutions of male domination, female chastity, marriage, ancestor worship, and land inheritance. The happiness of the individual is subordinated to the welfare of the group. Work and children are the foundation of all ethical norms. 

In such a context, homosexuality is deeply offensive. It is an insult to family continuity, a dereliction of duty, a refusal to conform to ancestral ways. It cannot be openly tolerated. If it exists at all, it is a covert behavior conducted by men and women who are married and who produce children. It is a private pleasure that is never allowed to interfere with the public responsibility of reproduction. Like romantic love, it is not essential to the family’s and community’s agenda. 

The authors and editors of the Torah, like all their contemporaries, were members of an agricultural, sheep-herding society. (Raising meat is a form of agriculture). They hated homosexuality and saw it as an “abomination.” Since they were deeply attached to their shepherd traditions and were hostile to any form of urban culture, they found any deviation from the reproductive mode of sexual behavior very offensive. Thus religious homosexuals must confront the fact that their ancestors hated them. The prohibitions in the Torah and in the sacred documents of other religions are too explicit to deny. 

Male homosexuals, in particular, were despised. Female homosexuals can perform their “duty” even if they derive no pleasure from it. The same is not true of men. A few societies gave a special status to male homosexuals, but the price was that they ceased to be regarded as men. 

Toleration of homosexual behavior begins with the development of uran culture. Since the Greeks were pioneers in urban culture, it is no mere coincidence that some of their intellectuals celebrated the virtues of homosexual love. But this love was confined to the attachment of married men for boys. It was assumed that when homosexual boys grew up, they, in turn, would be married. Athens was not San Francisco.  

Open homosexuality for men and women who intend to remain unmarried is quite new. It arose out of the rapid urbanization of Western Europe and North America in the past century and a half. It has no historic precedent because capitalism and science, the causes of mass urbanization, have no historic precedent. 

In an urban culture, reproduction is problematic. Children neither work for you nor stay with you. They may not even respect you because, in a world of changing information, they may know more than you do. In addition, they are expensive and parasitic for long periods of time. Choosing not to have children is a legitimate moral choice in an urban culture, especially in a technological society in which the life span of the individual is prolonged and infant mortality is reduced to insignificance. Only in an advanced urban culture can the values that now dominate liberal society emerge: individualism, feminism, happiness, and self-esteem. Only capitalism and affluence can allow what agricultural society forbids. Liberty rests on a sometimes fragile economic foundation. 

The homosexual rights movement first emerged in Berlin after the defeat of the kaiser. The turmoil of World War 1 undermined established conservative regimes and triggered the lifestyle revolution of the 1920s. From clothing to the cinema, sexual liberation emerged with stunning glitz. The sophisticated city of Cabaret was the perfect venue for a movement that defied social convention. The depression, the triumph of fascism, and the horrors of the Second World War pushed sexual liberation aside. But postwar affluence eventually revived the movement. 

The uproar of the Vietnam War and the student revolution that followed emboldened homosexuals. Before that time, it was difficult to press for homosexual rights beause, unlike some other minority groups, homosexuals, for reasons of safety, chose clandestine lifestyles. A group that is afraid to be visible cannot lobby or organize demonstrations. The emergence of the homosexual community from the closet gave them a new power to make demands and to gain political satisfaction. 

The Stonewall incident in 1969 in Greenwich Village mobilized widespread homosexual resistance to repression. Cities like New York and San Francisco became havens for men and women coming out. The word gay replaced queer in sophisticated parlance. Homosexual political and propaganda power grew. In time the defense of homosexual rights became “politically correct” in liberal circles. In some places laws were passed to end discrimination and provide protection from hatred. 

In the 1970s and ‘80s, homosexuals pressed for relief from persecution. They wanted the right to practice their lifestyle openly, the right to housing and employment, the right to be teachers, councilors, clergy and parents, the right to serve in the armed forces, and the right to have their lifestyle included as a moral option in public education. Over the course of these two decades, more and more of the American and European public came to support these demands. 

Even the intrusion of the AIDS plague did not retard the advance of homosexual rights. On the contrary, the assault of HIV forced the now openly homosexual community to mobilize itself for action, discipline some of its promiscuity, and develop a network of mutual support and fundraising. The community became more responsible, more self-confident, and more aggressive. One of the consequences of AIDS was a new emphasis on nonpromiscuous homeosexual partnerships that paralleled marriage in the heterosexual community. 

Of course, the success of the homosxeual community as a political constituency was bound to produce an intense conservative reaction. By the 1990s, the Religious Right in America, stalemated on the abortion issue, began to push gay rights to the forefront as the symbol of moral decadence. Assisted by the AIDS scare, its leaders chose resistance to homosexual demands as the “flag” of their moral crusade. Even Bill Clinton, who had been supported in his first presidential campaign by the gay community, retreated before the right-wing assault. 

Nevertheless, the homosexual political vanguard pressed forward with a new demand for gay marriage, arguing that homosexual partnerships are no different from childless heterosexual marriages. In our modern society, heterosexual couples who choose not to have children are nevertheless entitled to legal acceptance and the status of marriage. Why not grant an equal right to homosexual couples? Without marriage, homosexual partners are denied the priveleges that legal marriage brings: the right to inherit wealth, the right to manage the illness and death of life-long partners, the right to insurance and tax benefits, the right to spousal pension and retirement benefits. The homosexual world is filled with horror stories about alienated, hostile family members who, when a homosexual becomes ill or dies, suddenly emerge to claim control of money and funeral arrangements, driving away the partner whose presence is needed and who has the moral right to the assets and benefits. The push for gay marriage dramatizes how far the homosexual community has come in its drive for equality and moral recognition, but also the difficult battles still to be fought. 

Humanistic Judaism must stand against biblical Judaism and halakhic Judaism in defense of homosexual rights and homosexual freedom. From a humanistic point of view, the choice of a homosexual lifestyle is ethically appropriate. Individuals have the right to be the masters of their own lives insofar as they do not harm others. In its social consequences, gay sexual behavior is no different from contraceptive and childless “straight” sexual behavior. Indeed, in an urbanized world threatened with planetary overpopulation, gay sex may provide a social benefit. And stable homosexual partnerships are preferable to homosexual promiscuity, just as stable heterosexual partnerships are preferable to homosexual promiscuity. 

From a pragmatic point of view, however, the insistence on calling homosexual partnerships “marriage” is a stumbling block. The word marriage has a long association with the social right to bear children and, for most of the public — even for many people sympathetic to homosexual freedom — is not easily transferred to homosexual partnerships. The battle would be easier to win if homosexuals pushed for the rights and privileges of domestic partnerships, whether they be called “marriage” or something else. 

The issue of whether homosexuality is genetic is irrelevant to the moral discussion. If homosexual behavior were both bad and genetically determined, that would be an argument for enforced segregation and exclusion. Pleading helplessness is meaningless in the face of social harm; it is simply a victim’s strategy for arousing pity. It may indeed be the case that homosexual desire is genetically determined, but the moral right of homosexuals to practice their lifestyle derives from individual autonomy and social usefulness. Talented people who are not engaged in producing offspring provide and have provided enormous gifts to society. 

Ten Humanistic Disciplines

Humanistic Judaism, Vol 24, No 1-2, Winter_Spring 1996

Since the Enlightenment, personal freedom has become a primary value in Western culture. Before that, obedience to the will of God or to God’s deputies was regarded as the source of all virtue. Humility, not self-esteem, was the path to paradise. Indeed, the very name of one major religion, Islam, means “surrender” to the divine will.  

The upheavals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries changed all that. The servant of God, the subject of the king, now became a free citizen. To be a free citizen was to acquire an array of rights: the right to choose your marriage partner, your work, and your place of residence; the right to say what you want to say; and the right to select your own religion — or no religion. All over the Western world, new democratic constitutions guaranteed these rights. The “age of enlightenment” had begun. 

In time the new freedom found a philosophic foundation in the writing of classical and liberal philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill. Personal freedom became part of a broader notion called autonomy. To be autonomous is to be the master of your life. Without autonomy there is no dignity. 

Personal freedom was enhanced by political, economic, and social change. Monarchies were overthrown. The authority of the clergy was undermined. The patriarchal family disintegrated in the face of urbanization. Science and industry were greater sources of power than military might. The mobile individual became the fundamental work unit of the new capitalism. Old, authoritarian structures crumbled, to be replaced by the new marketplace of goods and ideas. In recent years, personal freedom has expanded to include lifestyle and sexual orientation — even the right to burn the nation’s flag. The freedom wagon is on a roll. 

Humanistic Judaism, for obvious reasons, rejected authoritarianism. Freedom and choice became bywords in humanistic discourse. The value of autonomy seemed so self-evident that any attempt to restrict it was viewed as reactionary. 

But the worship of freedom poses dangers. The contemporary world gives testimony to that reality. Here are some of the problems of unrestricted freedom. 

Many free people make good choices, choices that lead to happiness and personal fulfillment. But many free people make bad choices, choices that lead to unhappiness and self-destruction. Bad choices are made because people behave impulsively and compulsively, failing to understand the consequences of their behavior. Often a craving for instant gratification prevents people from achieving long-run goals; immediate pleasure becomes a prelude to pain and suffering. Smokers and fat people use their freedom badly. So do dropouts and “flakes.” And since the consequences of their bad choices fall not only on themselves but also on others — family, friends, co-workers, and people who pay insurance premiums — their behavior poses an ethical challenge to defenders of personal freedom. Society may grant individual citizens the right to choose, but that does not mean that they will make good choices.  

Many free people are rational. But many free people are wildly irrational. In a democratic society, people tend to resist authority, no matter how legitimate or commonsensical. “It’s a matter of opinion” is how many conversations end. The implication is that all opinions are of equal value; to say that I am right and you are wrong is to impugn the equality of your freedom. In a totally free and equal society, there can be no objective truth. What is true for me may not be true for you; I am just as good as you are, and so my opinion is just as good as yours. Evidence is irrelevant. Facts are annoying intrusions. Knowledge is a function of uninformed free will. Anything can be true because I have chosen it to be true. If it makes me feel good, if it relieves the burden of my uncertainty, then who are you to tell me that it is false? Egalitarianism turns freedom into an instrument of ignorance. 

Many free people are sensitive to the fact that they live in a community with competing agendas, where space and resources are limited. But many free people are narcissistic; they claim the absolute right to do what they want to do. In America, we are now confronted by irate libertarians who refuse to pay taxes, irate property owners who refuse all restrictions on how they can use their property, irate parents who refuse to provide child support, and irate rifle owners who reject government control. The claim to freedom becomes a form of grievance collection, in which the sacredness and supremacy of liberty are upheld regardless of social consequences. Indeed, society is often sidestepped by designating absolute personal freedom as “God-given.” 

Many free people take responsibility for their lives. They understand that the price of freedom is that there is no one else to blame for the choices they make. But many free people see their choices as limited by circumstance. They see themselves as victimized by abusive parents, abusive bosses, abusive neighbors, and abusive government. Only when these abuses are removed will they be free. Resentment replaces responsibility. The burden of making things work rests with others. For such people, freedom has more to do with rights and grievances than with taking personal control. Like children, they want to be free and to be taken care of at the same time. The two agendas are incompatible. We have become a society of endless litigation because the freedom to make a positive difference in an imperfect world is replaced by the freedom to complain. 

Many free people turn their talents to good purpose and seek to fulfill their potential to be useful. They see freedom as an opportunity to study and to serve others in a meaningful way. But many free people are lazy. They neglect their talent. They never fulfill their potential. When confronted with their failure, they insist that they have a right to do with their lives whatever they want. They have no obligation to others. Their life is their life, just as their opinion is their opinion. Social utility is an illegitimate “guilt trip.” Either autonomy is complete or it is a sham. Against this peevish self-assertion, ethics vanishes into wilfulness. 

Many free people choose to help neighbors and strangers. Even in anonymous urban settings, they choose to be kind and supportive. But many free people use urban anonymity as a screen for indifference. Shielded from the eyes of public opinion, they do only what pleases them. Walking, driving, listening to music, disposing of garbage, greeting people — all become opportunities for aggressive rudeness. Strangers in need become annoying intrusions on their freedom to pursue their own agendas. We are certainly free to be hostile. But what happens to a society in which no one cares what other people feel and think? The terror and chaos of such a society will ultimately lead to the reintroduction of authoritarian regimes with strict surveillance to secure law and order. 

Freedom and autonomy cannot be ends in themselves. They are merely means to greater ends. Those greater ends have to do with long-run personal happiness and the welfare of communities. Personal freedom without personal discipline is a danger both to the individual and to society. 

In order for freedom to have value, it needs ten important disciplines. These disciplines are as important to Humanistic Judaism as is freedom. 

  1. Positive freedom needs the strength to face unpleasant facts and to live with them. All opinions are not of equal value. There is objective truth. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the strength to live with uncertainty. Most questions concerning the nature and development of the universe cannot at present be definitively answered. Making up answers to relieve the anxiety of uncertainty is not a good long-run strategy for dealing with reality.  
  1. Positive freedom needs the strength to respect legitimate authority. To be legitimate, authority must be rational. Rational authority is the voice of evidence. It is the voice of the consequences of behavior. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the ability to postpone pleasure. Most worthwhile goals, especially health, require enormous discipline. If we cannot endure temporary pain and depression, our freedom is useless and dangerous. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the ability to control emotions. If we are the victims of the relentless agendas of fear, anger, hate, and love, our freedom is illusory. We are the slaves of masters in combat with each other. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the willingness to be useful to others. Freedom to waste our talents and to be parasitic is a very harmful form of autonomy. Training for useful work is a responsibility that should go with the freedom to choose work. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the willingness to keep promises and the determination to pursue long-run commitments. Freedom to be irresponsible is no virtue. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the willingness to see ourselves as a part of some greater societal whole. Every behavior, from talking to taking up space, has social consequences. No freedom is absolute. All freedom is limited by the presence of other people and their agendas. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the ability to be caring when nobody we know, or nobody with power to punish, is watching us. Anonymous urban environments require personal discipline if they are to remain free of authoritarian intrusion. 
  1. Positive freedom needs the willingness to take responsibility for the choices we make. A free society that works needs fewer professional kvetches and more people who are willing to help themselves and to help others, even when the fates have not been kind. 

Freedom is an opportunity, not a virtue. Autonomy is an asset when it leads to long-run happiness, personal dignity, and social usefulness. Liberty is a liability when it does not. Free societies that are successful are made up of people who know how to take advantage of the opportunity of freedom while striving to be strong, realistic, and responsible.  

Confronting the Religious Right

Humanistic Judaism, Vol 23, No 3-4 Summer_Autumn 1995

Confronting the Religious Right 

Because of the Religious Right, political decisions in America have become ethical issues. Preserving the separation of religion and government is a moral challenge of supreme importance. 

The power of the Religious Right rests on a variety of developments. Charismatic leaders, money, media exposure, the exploitation of available church audiences, the vulnerability of the Republican Party — all these factors are important to the rise of the political fundamentalists. But the most important foundation is the growing concern of millions of Americans with the moral decline of America. Selfishness, rudeness, “flakiness,” disrespect for all authority, and the incessant demand for instant gratification are more visible than ever before. The Religious Right claims that a return to religion, especially in our public schools, will cure this “disease.” 

Even though the cure is an illusion, the “disease” is real. There is a values crisis in America. Something has to be done to deal with it. And the great danger is that we will turn the problem over to “quack doctors” who will do more harm than good. 

Opposing prayer in the public schools, fighting government vouchers for parochial schools, removing Bible readings from state-run classrooms — all of these efforts will fail if we do not address the values issue. 

A negative strategy, a strategy that simply says no, will not work. Only a positive strategy, a proposal that seeks to confront values anxiety with values education, has any real chance for success. It is not enough to romanticize the historic importance of the separation of church and state. We must also have some alternative answer to the need to teach values to our children. 

“Politically correct” liberals often claim that values are too subjective and too controversial to be taught in the public schools. Only the home and the church can appropriately handle them. But what if the home and the church are not able to do what the community expects from them? What if millions of children have no exposure to a decent home or to an effective church? Are there no shared values that a public school can transmit? Is morality only a matter of sex education, feminism, and abortion? 

The historic public school in America taught values. It was called “good citizenship.” Many of us grew up with a report card that evaluated our self-control, reliability, and cooperation. Our teachers saw themselves not only as information dispensers, but also as moral disciplinarians. While their techniques would now be regarded as too harsh and too authoritarian, their message was appropriate. Education is not only about personal development and personal rights; it is also about living in a community. 

Many public school teachers are still trying to teach citizenship values, either through personal example or by direct instruction. But they are often afraid, in the present environment of the fundamentalist right and the multicultural left, to say so. They are intimidated into claiming that they are teaching no values at all.  

Such a strategy feeds into the political agenda of the Religious Right. This reticence enables them to condemn “valueless” education and to push for prayer in the public schools. Only the refusal to be reticent, only the willingness to resist the pressures from the right and the left, only the courage to advocate values education in the state schools, will provide a workable counterforce to fundamentalist pressure. 

The premises of such a values education have been with us for a long time. Here they are: 

  1. The Founding Fathers of this nation, together with thousands of other historic figures — male and female, black and white — are appropriate ethical role models for our children. 
  1. There are certain moral values that are shared by almost all Americans, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, religious or nonreligious. Values like fairness, responsibility, reliability, compassion, cooperation, and the postponement of gratification are universal. They are important and noncontroversial. 
  1. Ethical values can be taught in both a religious and a nonreligious way. One way is to attach the value to the command of God. The other way is to connect the value to the consequences of behavior. Keeping promises can be important because God wants us to keep promises. It also can be important because society will fall apart if nobody can trust or believe anybody else. Teaching values in a secular way does not negate the possibility of teaching values in a religious way. But it is possible to present them in a nonreligious way, which does not violate the religious beliefs of the students. 
  1. Citizenship values do not have to be taught in a separate class. They need to be integrated into the discussion of every subject and into every classroom situation. An effective teacher, regardless of academic discipline, knows how to teach values. 

These four premises are the foundation of a positive strategy for confronting the Religious Right. Perhaps what we need in the public schools is not to begin the day with prayer, but to hear and see ethical quotations from great Americans. With a quotation, at least you can have a discussion. 

The Rabbi Writes – The New Year

Volume 14, No. 1, September 1976

The traditional Rosh Hashanah was a frightening day. It was the Day of Judgment when the insignificance of man confronted the power of God. Helplessness, dependence and reverent awe were the moods of the season.

Everyone felt unworthy to be saved and pleaded to his sins. Feeling worthy was, in itself in the act of arrogance, in inappropriate hutspa, which was ironically self-destructive. God punished those who lacked humility.

The Rosh Hashanah game was amusingly sick. You had to look like a loser in order to be a winner.

A humanist Rosh Hashanah is a rejection of this mood. It refuses the posture of weak people who are trying to appease the strong. It resists the theater of dependency where helpless beggars plead for divine crumbs.

A humanist Rosh Hashanah affirms human dignity. It affirms human power. It regards human arrogance and Promethean hutspa as less dangerous than pious resignation and humble confessions of inadequacy.

This distinction is not trivial.

The old theology is not offensive. Theological beliefs are usually only the intellectual frosting on an emotional cake.

The old emotion is offensive. A sense of powerlessness can be justified in many ways. If you do not like Jewish, Christian or Muslim theology, you can try Buddhist mysticism. If Buddhism bothers you, astrology may please you. If astrology seems intellectually thin, then Marxist destiny may give your mood a sense of respectability.

What is disturbing about our present world is not the presence of silly theologies and simplistic sociologues. Weariness is a mood that intellectuals are paid to justify.

All observation is selective. Pessimists are especially adept at noticing pollution, war crime and hatred. They have great difficulty in viewing things in the long run. They romanticize the past. They enjoy their melancholy nostalgia.

The truth is that human beings are not helpless, bumbling victims of their own fates. They are also the conscious creators of happiness and beauty.

The truth is that, for most of the people of the world, the last century, despite all its horrors, is a vast improvement over any the preceded.

Optimism maybe less fashionable than being disbanded. It may even sound maudlin in poetry. But it sure is more attractive than guilt-ridden timid admissions of boredom.

Jews, if anybody, have the skills for justifying pessimism.

But we ought to avoid it. It doesn’t look good. And it’s bad for our health.

The Rabbi Writes – Dignity and Self-Esteem

Volume 20, No. 2, September 1982

The Jewish New Year is it time for reflection on what we want out of life.

Present hard times make us aware of our need to choose among alternatives, since we cannot have everything we want. Economic restrictions often force us to consider all the other limitations on the satisfaction of our desires. They also enable us to focus on those areas of our lives where we still enjoy freedom and power.

What are the goals which a good humanist strives to achieve?

There are three general values which reflect our basic human needs. The first is security, a desire for safety and freedom from want and danger. The second is pleasure, the positive pursuit of sensual gratification. The third is dignity and self-esteem, the experience of inner mastery and control.

These three values are not always mutually compatible. If security is uppermost in our mind we may forego both pleasure and dignity. If pleasure is primary, we may sacrifice safety and self-esteem. and if dignity is first, we may risk our lives and endure pain.

Human philosophers, on the whole, preferred dignity as their first value. Much of modern existentialism is an explanation of this choice.

What is dignity?

Self-esteem is both an inner and an outer experience. As an inner experience, it is a sense of being in charge of one’s own life. As an outer behavior, it is the refusal to allow other people to treat ‘me’ as a child, A servant, or a defective. Or, to put it more positively, ‘I’ discover that others regard ‘me’ as perfectly capable of making my own choices and allow me to do so.

A person who has dignity is willing to do the following things.

He is willing to assume responsibility for all his actions, Even when he feels victimized or abused. He refuses all excuses.

He avoids complaining about situations that cannot be changed. People who engage in useless complaining or seeking appeasement rather than self-esteem. They want to arouse pity and to avert anger. Since we learn appeasement as children, it is more familiar to us than dignity.

He is willing to take risks. Self-esteem is incompatible with total security. Meeting new friends, training for new jobs, investing in new businesses – all of these ventures reinforce dignity. Insisting on guarantees of success is in bad taste, a sign of paralyzing fear. Adventure and mastery go together.

He is generous. Stingy people are obsessed with their weakness and vulnerability. They imagine that every gift diminishes them. Self-esteeming people feel stronger because they’re able to share. They feel more powerful because they’re able to give, without asking for something in return.

He enjoys privacy. He sees himself as a distinct individual with his own space. While he needs other people, he does not need them all the time. He is willing to confront uninvited intruders.

He is concerned about the consequences of his actions. He does not dump his ‘garbage’ and expect other people to pick it up.

He makes a distinction between pleasure and happiness. He knows that, even when there is long-run pain, A striving for independence is more satisfying than momentary gratification.

He chooses to be hopeful. Pessimism is the privilege of servants. Leaders – especially masters of their own lives – need to mobilize their energies. They recognize that optimism is a style, not a view of the future.

It’s not run away from reality. If death is real, he will except it and defy it. The quality of life will always be more important than its quantity.

In hard times, it may be difficult to guarantee security or to find pleasure. But it is always possible to strive for dignity and self-esteem.

The Rabbi Writes – The Massacre in Beirut

Volume 20, No. 3, October 1982

Rosh Hashana. The massacre in Beirut. Outrage. Shame.

And up all the facts have been revealed. But enough have surfaced to fill our Jewish hearts with guilt. The Defense Minister of the state of Israel has publicly admitted that he allowed the forces of the Christian Lebanese Phalange to pass through Israeli lines and to enter the Palestinian camps of Shatila and Sabra for the purpose of rooting out terrorists. But as every Lebanese child knows, to allow militant Christians, thirsty for revenge for the assasination of their hero leader, into an unarmed Palestinian camp is to invite murder. It is as innocent as putting a snake in a baby’s crib.

How does a humanistic Jew respond to the news that leaders of the Jewish state have sanctioned a holocaust? How do we deal with their initial refusal to allow an impartial investigation? Do we defend our Jewish leaders because they are Jewish? Do we minimize the outrage? Do we plead that greater atrocities have been committed against us? Do we claim that we are not responsible for what Israel allows?

The first thing we do is to dismiss certain harmful illusions.

It’s not my problem – is an illusion.

Whether we like it or not, all Jews are identified with the behavior of the Israeli government. As the most consuming passion of world Jewry, support for Israel cannot be dismissed when it is inconvenient or embarrassing. we cannot proudly identify with all the good achievements, and then in cowardly fashion avoid our obvious association with bad behavior. The world sees Israel and the Jewish people as one.

We buy our own behavior have created this impression. As members of the Jewish family we are implicated in the crime. We therefore have a special responsibility to let the world know how we feel.

Disunity is bad – is an illusion.

Sharon implied that Jewish protestors were giving assistance to the enemies of the Jewish people and that they were guilty of treason and antisemitism. Many of our timid community leaders who were interviewed in the Detroit Free Press obviously feel the same way. But silence is complicity. We who denounced the silence of Germans in World War II who also succumbed to appeals for unity should be hard put to swallow the Sharon argument. Perhaps Amos and Isaiah, who objected policies of their government in the face of external danger were also antisemites.

Jews are the only victims of the double standard – is an illusion.

Norman Podhoretz complains that the world allows the Gentile nations behavior that it refuses the Jews. Atrocities are committed all the time all over the world and are ignored by world opinion. Only when Israel behaves less than noble does moral outrage appear. Yet the reverse is also true. We Jews are so accustomed to being the unique victim that when other people, especially our enemies, are victimized we regard them as imposters, as unworthy of the status which we have for so long grown accustomed to claim for ourselves alone. That arrogance is also a double standard. We cannot bear to think that the Palestinian experience bears any similarity to the Jewish one.

The Holocaust gives us special privileges – is an illusion.

Many Jews including Begin, believe that Jewish suffering in the holocaust was so terrible that it justifies Jewish violence against an uncaring world. How can 500 Palestinians compare to 6 million Jewish dead? Counting casualties become the criterion for outrage. By this standard we still have over 5 million to go before the world has a right to object. No more unattractive self-righteousness can present itself.

What other people think is unimportant – is an illusion.

When hypocrites, like the Russians and the Libyans complain, who cares? But when the dutch, the Danes, and the Swedes – the ardent supporters of Israel in the American Congress and American journalism complain – the Israeli government ought to listen. The self-esteem of a nation depends on the approval of its friends and allies. Will the morale of Israel be elevated by the endorsement of South Africa and Jerry Falwell?

The Israeli military leaders had no motivation to sanction a massacre – is an illusion.

In 1948 the Irgun terrorists attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin and massacred men, women and children. The report of that massacre spread throughout the Palestinian Arab community creating panic and persuading thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes. In 1980 to a similar incident in Lebanon might persuade thousands of Palestinian refugees in Israeli occupied territories to flee their camps and to cross over the Syrian lines to safety. The convenient exodus of 1948 is the precedent for the aborted exodus of 1948 is the precedent for the aborted exodus of 1982. Both the Phalange and the Israeli military would have regarded the terrified departure of the Palestinians as good riddance.

After we have dismissed the illusions, the second thing we do is to protest. we do what 400,000 Israeli citizens did in Tel Aviv.

We protest the refusal of the leaders of the American Jewish establishment to express moral outrage.

We protest the refusal of the Israeli government to allow an objective investigation of the events until world pressure compelled them to relent.

We protest the leadership of Begin and Sharon who have brought shame to the Jewish people.

We protest, not only to be heard, but also to clear our conscience. Silence is complicity.

The Rabbi Writes – The Right to Die

Volume 27, No. 6, January 1991

The right to die.

On the surface a rather bizarre right. Especially when we remember that most human rights talk is about the right to live. Demanding freedom, dignity and security is all related to enhancing the quality of life. Suicide seems a less appetizing civil liberty.

But in recent years the affirmation of the right to die has been growing stronger and stronger. Modern medicine has prolong the life of many people beyond their ability to cope with the ravages of aging. Medical technology has become so sophisticated that terminally ill and comatose patients are kept alive by machines that promise no more than a living death. Expectations for the quality of life have resin decade by decade. Excruciating pain and humiliation are no longer tolerable or justifiable for millions of people.

The right to die issue was dramatized recently, right here in the state of Michigan, with the Jack Kevorkian case. A Detroit area physician and euthanasia advocate helped an Oregon woman, Jane Adkins, Who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, to commit suicide. Refused a setting in a motel or funeral home, Kevorkian set up his suicide machine in the back of a van. Adkins presses the button and died. She had chosen Michigan as the place of her suicide because there was a physician who was willing to assist her and because for some odd reason there is no law in the state of Michigan that prohibits assisting at a suicide.

A public furor arose over the Kevorkian action. Many condemned him as a moral monster who had betrayed his oath as a doctor. Others called for his immediate arrest. Still others demanded that the state legislature act immediately to cover up the loophole in the law. In the end he was put on trial in Oakland County. But, shortly after the trial began, the prosecutor withdrew the charge claiming that the present law failed to sustain his guilt. The anti-euthanasia people are livid. They are working to change the lot to make sure that what Kevorkian chose to do will never again go unpunished.

The anti-euthanasia people do not believe in the right to die. They do not believe in an easy death (that’s what the word euthanasia means). They believe that all forms of suicide are wrong even for the terminally ill.

They believe that God creates life and only God can take it away. They believe that human suffering is a mystery that only God can understand. Although it appears to be evil it really serves some good purpose which the limited human intellect cannot discern. Moreover, human life is sacred and taboo because it bears the divine image. It cannot be tampered with. What Kevorkian chose to be was God. And no human being has the right to play that role.

Now most humanists might object to the haste and shabby setting which accompanied the suicide of Jane Adkins. But they cannot resist the right of Jane Adkins to be the master of her life and to choose her death when she was suffering terminal pain and humiliation. That right to die, under such circumstances, is a moral right.

The dispute with traditionalists centers around the purpose of life. For the pious the purpose of life is life. It is the humble acceptance of whatever God has arranged for us. For us as humanists the purpose of life is not life. A life with no pleasure or dignity, or with no chance of pleasure or dignity, is without meaning. The purpose of life is the quality of life, a quality of life defined by basic human needs. When these needs can no longer be satisfied life ceases to be significant. Living as a “vegetable“ or a living as a dying victim of painful disease has so special moral claim to preservation.

The right to die is the other side of the right to live with dignity. If indeed we are “divine“, as the pious claim, we demand for ourselves what even the most modest of deities would insist for themselves.

What are the implications of the right to die?

It means the people who are terminally ill and who have no realistic hope of recovery have the right to choose death.

It means that society should assist these people so that their justifiable suicide will be easy (euthanasia) and not hard.

It means that the medical profession, as the expert agents of society, should assist the people who make this choice so that it is not carried out hastily and in settings that are inappropriate. No person should be assisted in this choice until their decision has been evaluated by a panel of community workers including physicians, counselors and peers, set up for this purpose. If the committee concurs with the petitioner, A suitable place of death and medical and psychological help should be provided. Physicians, who, in good conscience, cannot participate in this program should not be required to do so.

It means that the state legislature should not yield to the traditionalists who, most likely, represent only a minority of the state’s voters on this issue, But should respond to the legitimate demands of the people of choice to turn the moral right to live with dignity into a legal right.

The Voice of Reason

Humanistic Judaism, Spring, 1991

The Arkansas state legislature has passed a bill requiring science teachers to give as much time to the Genesis story of creation as a gift to the Darwinian story of evolution.

A California judge just recently declared the teachers and the California public schools must acknowledge the evolution is only a theory and not a fact.

Paul Laxalt, a conservative senator from Nevada, has co-sponsored a bill in Congress, which is called a Family Protection Act and what to remove the issues of abortion and teacher qualification from the jurisdiction of the higher courts.

Committees of the Christian fundamentalists in southern Texas organizing to remove the pornographic writings of Salenger and Hemingway from the shelves

Committees of the Christian fundamentalists in southern Texas organizing to remove the pornographic writings of Salenger and Hemingway from the shelves of public library’s.

Mark Siljander, and Michigan Republican primary candidate actually backed by the Moral Majority, recently want to surprise victory against seemingly overwhelming odds.

A letter arrives to my office address to ‘you humanist bastard’.The anonymous author proclaims, ‘The Age of the Enlightenment is dead. The Age of Faith is reborn’.

Is the age of enlightenment really dying?

Well, if it were up to the Moral Majority and to its allies in the New Right, it’s certainly would be. The advocates of political Christian fundamentalism are determined to reverse the course of 200 years of American history and to turn our country into a Puritan version of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran.

The ideas and the ideals of the Enlightenment are now under attack. The Age of Reason is now on the defensive. The belief in an orderly world governed by natural law, the valuing of reason is the best method for the discovery of truth, the ability to live with uncertainty and the tentativeness of judgments, the eagerness to welcome new ideas, and maximizing of individual freedom and personal options, the assumption that good citizenship as possible without denominational religion—all these affirmations of the enlightenment are now being assaulted by voices of reaction.

The voice of reason is being drowned out by the voice of Fanaticism.

Who is this voice of Fanaticism?

The list is long. There is…

The Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell

The Christian Voice of Jerry Jarmon

The Religious Roundtable of Ed McAteer

The Committee for the Survival of the Free Congress of Paul Weyrich

The Christian Crusade of Billy Joe Hargis

The Stop ERA of Phyllis Schlafly

The Conservatives Caucus of Howard Phillips

What do they want? They want. Period.

The National Conservative Political Action Committee of Tim Dolan

The Conservative Digestive Richard Viguerie

And the remnants of the John Birch Society

As well as many others.

To put prayers in the public school;

To insinuate Bible stories into public science classrooms;

To censor classic literature they deem morally offensive;

To undermine our judicial system a state secular education;

To use public money to support denominational religion;

To ban sex education;

To limit sexual freedom;

To defeat the ERA universe the hard-won gains of female liberation;

To ban abortions;

To revive political witch hunts in the name of anti-communism;

To secure a political power to make the changes they desire.

How are they going about getting what they want?

They have developed a simple message that everyone can understand. Unlike the complex answers of liberal intellectuals, their analysis of the causes of crime, poverty, and family decline can be reduced to a simple observation. Turning away from God and the Bible is responsible for moral decay. It, therefore, logically follows that, if we turn back to God in the Bible, all will be well.

They have infiltrated political parties. They are encouraging their members to become active Republicans and Democrats. They have already taken over the Republican Party in Alaska and are aiming for broader victories.

They pushed through members to go out and vote for the candidate they have chosen–or, in many cases, vote against the political figures they have targeted. Church of Idaho, McGovern of South Dakota, Bayh of Indiana and many others were victims of their effective campaign.

They have mastered the media. Ironically, the technology which the spirit assigned to sponsors of them better than it serves defenders of science. They understand the power of radio and television to indoctrinate the masses and to mobilize them for social action. Fundamentalist station channels are proliferating. Millions of dollars are pouring in weekly from enthusiastic audiences. The political fundamentalists have entered the home of every American with their electronic campaign.

Alliances with formally angry opponents. Hostility to the public school system, the advocacy to parochial education and hatred of abortion unite them with conservative Catholics. The salvation style of fundamentalist Christianity makes them appealing to native Blacks. The Bible approach to the importance of the state of Israel into the Begin government claim to the West Bank and Gaza gives them support in the Jewish community. They have cleverly decided to woo their old enemies.

They have encountered very little organized opposition. The tendency of many liberals and moderates to regard them as funny fanatics who will ultimately fade away serves them well. The smugness of the academic and intellectual communities make it easy for them to succeed by default. Why are they here to begin with? Why is there a resurgence of political fundamentalism the national scale?

There are several important reasons.

They have always been around. But, they now have a new self-confidence. The decline of the North and the growing prosperity of the South has given them economic clout and greater self-esteem. After all, the heartland of fundamentalism is the South. And the South is no longer the depressed region which sponsored the ‘hillbilly’ mentality. Prosperity has created a new assertiveness and an eagerness to defend the ethnic religion.

The economic recession in most of America has frustrated millions of citizens. They are angry and troubled about their declining living standards and do not know how to deal with economic forces over which they seem to have no control. This is a good beginning for religious fervor and paranoia.

Spreading problems of crime and family decline terrified money people. Liberal clichés about personal freedom do not deal with the real question. Concern for personal safety and the welfare of children is a valid concern. The fundamentalists have a silly solution to the problem. But, at least, they’re trying to answer the question.

Most people understand how to use technology. But, do not understand the spirit of free inquiry which makes the development of technology possible. Or educational system has produced technologists. But, it has not developed the mentality of true science. We are not living in an age of science. We are still living in an age of superstition, where irrational people have access to technology.

So what can we do? How could we, as defenders of reason and free inquiry, respond to their provocation?

We can take the problem seriously. Given their determination, economic power and mass appeal, the forces of the New Right and their social agenda will not easily sleep it away.

We can organize. We can band together to become a public Voice of Reason to counter the propaganda and political activity of the political fundamentalists.

What would be the message of the voice of reason?

It would be positive. It will not allow the New Right to put us in the position of always being against. It would state very clearly that we are for three traditional American values–free inquiry —having good citizenship in a secular state—community peace and harmony—with the consequent need to avoid imposing controversial moral values on everybody.

It would be patriotic. It would not permit the opposition to claim Americanism. It would demonstrate that the founding fathers were disciples of the Enlightenment –not pious religionists. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Franklin resisted the Moral Majority of their day to lay the foundations of a secular state.

It would be moral. It would not simply defend negative freedom and turn over all the ethical vocabulary to the moralists on the right. It will declare that teaching values is an important part of public education. After all, reliability, honesty, cooperation, sharing, and self-control are part of good citizenship. They are necessary, non-controversial discipline n in a secular state. While denominational religion can reinforce these values, they can also be derived from reason and common sense. In a land of competing religions, the shared reasonable approach is the only feasible way to teach social discipline and to preserve community peace.

It would be sensitive. It would acknowledge the worries that many poor and middle-income Americans have about crime, child pornography, and family decline. It would be concerned with pragmatic responses to these issues.

It would be non-partisan. Many Republicans, as well as Democrats, fear the Moral Majority and its attempts to take over the machinery of the political parties. The Voice of Reason would not identify with the liberal economic agenda. It would recognize that both economic liberals and economic conservatives are in favor of the secular state and free inquiry.

How was the Voice of Reason go about spreading this message?

It would establish a national organization.

It would secure the endorsement of prominent ‘stars’ in the natural and social sciences, as well as the backing of public figures.

It would produce materials for public distribution.

It would create media programs for radio and television.

It would hold public meetings and rallies to generate publicity and create a sense of group solidarity.

It would train citizens to be the effective voices of reason and to answer the distortion of the New Right.

It would issue position papers to evaluate proposed legislation.

It would monitor the behavior of Congress and state legislators and support targeted candidates, whether Republican or Democratic.

It would solicit money to make this campaign possible.

Right now, the Voice of Reason is more than a ‘would’. It is an ‘is’. Last December, a national organization called the Voice of Reason was established in Michigan and Illinois. Its founding committee came from both the Society for humanistic Judaism and from other concern groups.

The voice of reason is growing. It is reaching out to many other states. It needs your help and support.