As a rejoinder to first Hal, and then to Bob I tracked down some things I wrote some years ago and pasted them below. Rather than compose new comments, I’ll use the ones I’ve picked here because I spent some time thinking about and composing them. Thank you in advance for your patience.
First, from a document listed as SHARPS on my hard drive, it has a creation date of 1/18/18. I never did send it to SI.
"Before I present my critique of the article and the idea presented by David Tyler and Gary Bakker I present my bone fides, such as they are. I’ve been a subscriber to Skeptical Inquirer for almost the entire existence of that publication, and I consider myself a rational skeptic and a secular humanist. I am agnostic, or to those that may be interested in discussing belief and faith, I call myself a “true agnostic.” That is, while my personal conclusion is that there is nothing in any existing religious heritage that does not reflect strictly human wishes, desires, and truisms, it is not impossible that there is something that exists which may resemble some of the reflections and contemplations of man down through the ages. I say it is not impossible, though I, like many others, do not see any imperative for the necessity of God. Also, for me, there is the fact that just as there is no defensible proof for the existence of a god, there likewise is no definitive proof of the non-existence of that possibility. To my way of thinking atheists are just as guilty of belief in the absence of proof as the most devout theist. For me personally, true agnosticism is the only intellectually honest position. It is not a conceit, or a dodge, and I didn’t realize until writing this that it is also exquisitely rational.
I disagree with the authors that the term SHARPS will be perceived by the general public as less arrogant and aggressive as the authors presume, and doubt that the term will remain, once absorbed within the public discussion, within the bounds of the idea they are attempting to mid-wife. Like any other idea, or term, or initiative, it will take on something of a life of its own. And like our living children, it may not end up in a place that fulfills our most cherished hopes and desires.
A similar debate has been going on within the political left for at least fifteen years or longer. With the successful campaign of the political right to turn the word liberal into a term of derision, the search has been on for a new political umbrella term under which to collect the dispirited and beleaguered liberals. I am one. My parents were liberals, and expressed that stance to their children and to their friends and neighbors. When I became aware of this re-branding effort I first went to my Webster’s dictionary and looked up the entry for liberalism. In my edition, at 2c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties. That definition accurately and fully describes my political beliefs and positions – to this day. Yet, it can’t be denied that in the American lexicon at least, association with that term is now linked (rightly or wrongly) with the excesses of big government, cronyism, and the other corruptions that always attend a political majority that would control the levers of power over a period of decades, while the conservatives wandered in the wilderness, as it has be memorialized.
The editorials and position papers I read were posted on a self-proclaimed progressive web site, and if you haven’t had the experience, let me just say that there is no firm agreement on just what it means to be progressive, or what political wish list should most animate a progressive movement. Though there are many there like myself that refer to the root word progress in our understanding of progressivism, there are also many that claim the progressive mantle that are devout religionists, or mystics, or spiritualists, or animists, or many other adherents and dabblers in a variety of paranormal nonsense. It was there that I first heard the term brights, and my first reaction was also one of recoil. Within the community that participates on that progressive site are also many proclaimed atheists, and many of those are what I consider militant atheists. That form of militancy will never result in any progress towards political civility, nor will it endear itself to those it wishes to persuade.
So far, these objections I’ve articulated might seem minor, or just a matter of differing opinion, but there is a more basic question I have concerning this initiative. The authors state that there is no specific philosophical viewpoint. I’ll rebut that this claim represents a social blind spot. The authors mention several times pooling a collective consciousness in order to reach a critical mass. If there is no philosophical viewpoint or goal, then to what end is this critical mass directed? It will also be very difficult to reach that critical mass when the entire effort is, at its base exclusive, rather than inclusive. Will the authors deny that there are many fine, and effective scientists and researchers that also maintain deeply spiritual beliefs?
Since I have been a very appreciative reader of Skeptical Inquirer for all of my adult life I am well versed in the perennial lamentations over the stubborn persistence of supernaturalism, paranormalism, scientific illiteracy, and magical thinking. I’ve often wondered just how consistent over the entire age of man the percentage of spiritualists, atheists, and agnostics really is. I know that my agnosticism is a minority view, as is atheism, and I do not believe that even this uncritical mass originated with the advent of the age of enlightenment. If there is one trait that attends most all true atheists and agnostics it is the determination to hold to our conclusions in the face of overwhelming majority opposition to those conclusions. The capacity for independent and contrary thought; and so I suggest that convening counsels for all those isms contained within the acronym SHARPS may end up like trying to herd cats. Nature on PBS informs me that all cats but the African Lion are solitary, independent creatures."
Next, an unfinished piece, where I once again tried to put into words some thoughts that had been banging around in my head for most of my life. On my hard drive I titled it “New Religion.”
"March 5, 2002
It was more than a year ago that I wrote the following passage.
IN THE BEGINNING …
The question, and it has always been just one question, is, why ? It is an alone thing every one of us asks ourselves, and that which we all ask together. Death puts the universality to the question. Why this, then oblivion? How, why, do I end ?
At this point in human time the question is to us as pressing and pervasive as it ever was. No tool we have yet devised nor angle of attack applied to the question has yielded a definitive answer. Secular rational reasoning has not forever disproved the possibility of a “creator” or “a higher other”. Religious or faith-based thought has likewise never proved the existence of the human soul or a benign creator nor even the necessity of either idea. Human inquisitiveness is alive with vitality on the edges of our understanding of the cosmos and of living things, and we are being showered with bits of new realizations that, at turns support then deny both those opposing views of existence.
And in the midst of this mounting philosophic brouhaha, we are becoming. Well, we are becoming large, certainly. One result of this is that we are also becoming- and I really resist using this word, but I can’t summon another more generic one- connected. Economically, environmentally, biologically, as well as in real-time communications, we are all feeling our connectedness. With a sense of alarm we realize that our size amplifies our potential to do great harm, either maliciously or by unforeseen consequences of well-intentioned but ill-planned actions.
How we get from here to where we are going next will be forever bound with our answer to the first question- why ? The question needs a new answer, an answer that speaks not to what possibly is unknowable, but to that mix of being and becoming that we call
"That was meant to be the one page introduction or statement of purpose for a full-fledged work concerning the function of religious systems as organizing and directional forces in human development. I also meant to show the inevitability of such organizational ideas and therefore the need to forge a new statement of purpose and yes, belief.
It can be very difficult to maintain a life of skepticism, agnosticism, or atheism today in the United States. I am not in danger of doubting the truth of my conclusions concerning the nature of existence, but I must co-exist in a society descended from a tradition of supernaturalism. After rejecting the Catholic system that I was raised in, the first realization that I had was this: as it exists, the western monotheistic tradition dilutes or even takes away the individual and collective will to act. By granting ultimate responsibility for continued existence and final authority of truth and goodness to a supreme intervening god, we blunt our ability to adapt to the changing circumstances of our existence.
It is impossible to deny that a creator or superior being could exist and be aware of our existence, but it is not a logical or necessary consequence that such an entity should be benevolent and wont to intervene in our affairs. This is a fundamental link in the chain of western religious tradition, a link that I believe was forged in the fire of evolving cultural necessity. This tradition, in its earliest form and continuing through its development, instructs its followers to modify their behavior in order to know the mind and mercy of god. Resist the tendencies to hate, destroy, lust, steal, and covet wealth and worldly possessions, for god’s true purpose and will is superbly just and good, and the light of his contemplation will scorch and obliterate a human life given over to those base behaviors.
Thus this tradition irreversibly linked the first question of why ? with the everyday necessity of how do we live ?. There is no doubt that the humane and workable ethics, morals, and the socially responsible behavior of this religious tradition have been beneficial to the cultures it helped evolve. But this tradition has been an effective force only as long as it has been believable in the main. As long as the idea or ideas supported a coherent operant philosophy in individuals, then consensus was possible. When the logical inconsistencies of the system became apparent to a majority of individuals within the culture, consensus disintegrated. However, the need for a coherent, directional belief system remains."
I never did pursue very persistently writing my treatise. I realized what I was attempting was merely a restatement of my particular own flavor of secular humanism, and that I’m not a well-read academician, nor a philosophical savant. If I fancied that I had any originality of thought, I probably would have discovered during the process and not wanting to be accused of plagiarism, that I was self-deceived.