Project of IISHJ


Celebration (1988) 

What is the purpose of life? What is the goal of moral behavior? 

Some people believe that the purpose of life is obedience to God. Since obedience can never be an end in itself, the pleasures of the afterlife are offered as ultimate rewards. But what if the routine of paradise seems less than pleasurable? What if the fear of punishment seems an undignified motivation? What if a divine dictatorship seems an affront to human dignity? 

Other people believe that the purpose of life is human survival. The preservation of our individual existence takes on a sacred character. But is mere survival a worthy goal? Is the quantity of life more important than its quality? Are there no circumstances when it is appropriate to risk death? 

Still others maintain that the purpose of life is human happiness. Striving for pleasure and contentment becomes a compelling virtue. Yet is the life of pleasure satisfying enough? Are all pleasures of equal value? Is there no time when pain and suffering are appropriate options? 

We humanists believe that the purpose of life is human dignity. Enabling people to become the masters of their own lives and to respect this potential in others is the moral enterprise. Where human dignity is at stake, it is appropriate to defy tradition, it is ethical to risk death, it is moral to choose painful challenge.

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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