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Humanism & Eastern Philosophy

Book Reviews by Jack Nichols

Humanism As the Next Step by Lloyd & Mary Morain, Humanist Press: Amherst, N.Y., 145 pages, paperback, $10

The Way of Liberation—Essays and Lectures on the Transformation of the Self by Alan Watts, Edited and transcribed by Mark Watts & Rebecca Shropshire, Weatherhill: New York & Tokyo, First edition: 1983; Sixth printing: 1995, 98 pages, $12.95

Humanism As the Next Step

book1130a.gif - 29.24 K Humanism As the Next Step, an easy-to-read introduction to that very "atheistic" philosophy about which Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Gary Bauer are perpetually warning their true believers, was first published in 1954.

A 1998 edition has now been released. Its aging authors are a man and wife whose countenances show those traces of a long-time joy and satisfaction with life that are seldom seen in Southern Baptist faces of comparable longevity.

Lloyd and Mary Morain provide in their succinct book a rallying call to the world's 1.1 billion non-believers (1989--Encyclopedia Britannica) who too often remain— since most know of no organization promoting Humanism-- somewhat ambivalent about the social value of their rationalistic perspectives.

It is precisely the social value in Humanism for which the Morains make a stellar case.

Crusaders for a more aggressive atheism like the late and/or missing Madelyn Murray O'Hare sometimes come off like Southern Baptists themselves. This old-fashioned breed of skeptics, angry because they perceive they've been duped by mainstream cults, respond with a vengeful ire bespeaking too much self-congratulation for detecting stinking piles of obvious nonsense. Lloyd and Mary Morain, however, are not of this vengeful ilk. The Morain's non-theistic viewpoint—the philosophy of Humanism-- is creative, not nihilistic. Studying their warm smiles reminds one of Whitman's verses: "I carry the proof of everything I am in my face."

book1130b.gif - 16.56 K Mary and Lloyd Morain In the 1940s and 1950s Mary Morain served on birth-control boards in both Massachusetts and California, participating in pioneering world conferences on family planning. A past president of the International Society for General Semantics, she edited four books in the field. Both she and her husband are Fellows of the World Academy of Art and Science.

Lloyd Morain is a former president of the American Humanist Association. He has been a long time editor of The Humanist, and was a founding director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Mr. Morain also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Association. His previous book, The Human Cougar, explores the lives of working drifters.

A useful chapter in Humanism As the Next Step explores the growth of the International Humanist and Ethical Union on six continents. Its membership, surprisingly, totals some 4 million in over a hundred nations. It has consultive status at the United Nations and in November, 1996, held its thirteenth Humanist World Congress in Mexico City. This event featured such luminaries as exiled novelist Taslima Nasrin (a Bangladeshi ex-patriot who fled her country because of death threats after she suggested an equality of the sexes among Muslims that would allow women—like men—to have as many as four spouses.)

Modern humanists are networking, finding strong allies in many groups such as the Unitarian-Universalists, the Quakers (Society of Friends) and the Ethical Culture Society. Among scientific, activist, philosophic and literary celebrities who have self-identified as humanists, are: Jonas E. Salk, Margaret Sanger, Sir Julian Huxley, Carl Rogers, Eric Fromm, Benjamin Spock, Betty Friedan, Andrei Sakharov, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, John Kenneth Galbraith, Faye Wattleton, Kurt Vonnegut, Ashley Montagu, and Alice Walker.

This reviewer, during his teen years, was a subscriber to The Humanist magazine and was privileged many years later-- in 1987-- to have organized a 15-person picketing demonstration for the purpose of effectively embarrassing Jerry Falwell and that included Edwin H. Wilson, the founding editor of that prestigious publication.

My longtime association with many founding pioneers of the lesbian and gay movement in America leads me to believe that most—with the exception of conventional religionists like The Reverend Troy Perry—have been Humanists—if not openly—at least in attitude and expression. Perceiving religious dogma as the foe of free thought and sexual variation, the humanist strains in such early thinkers and activists is hardly surprising.
The Way of Liberation: Essays & Lectures on the Transformation of the Self

book1130c.gif - 45.13 K At age 29, Alan Watts' books and essays became staples in my library. Since Watts' untimely death in 1973, I'd refrained, until now, from buying posthumous collections of his amazing works. What had initially attracted me to his writings was the clarity with which he explained the drawbacks of worry, something I then needed to know as a somewhat overly-active worrier. Worry, Watts made clear, is not only unnecessary but is also a thief of one's daily energies. Entering-- in 1968-- my third decade with this precious knowledge of how to dispense with worry eased my way to a growth-pattern previously outside my grasp.

Alan Watts was indeed one of the great cosmopolitan gurus of the 1960s counterculture. A former Anglican priest, he evolved into one of the three most prominent pioneers bringing knowledge of Buddhist psychology to the West, the other two being D.T. Suzuki and Christmas Humphreys. I was intrigued enough by all three of these thinkers to pour over their writings, arranging in 1976 to meet Christmas Humphreys in London where a celebration of the Buddha's birthday was taking place.

A major difference between Christian dogma and Buddhist thought has to do with dogmatic Christianity's focus on blood sacrifice. Salvation, according to this view, occurs only if one accepts that God's sacrificial lamb—his own son—spilled his blood to rescue others.

Buddha's dying words, on the other hand, were humanistic in both tone and content. He did not—500 years before Christ-- posit blood sacrifice as THE necessity for salvation. He said: "Work out your own salvation with diligence."

Knowing I liked Alan Watts' incisive and humorous interpretations of Eastern philosophy—which included both Zenist and Taoist perspectives—it came as no surprise when I discovered—in 1971-- how— as an avowed heterosexual— he discussed homosexuality. Watts wrote:

book1130d.gif - 18.39 K Alan Watts "If they (young and unrealized homosexuals who affect machismo, ultramasculinity, and who constitute the hard core of our military-industrial-police-Mafia-combine) would go and fuck each other (and I use that word in its most positive and appreciative sense) the world would be vastly improved. They make it with women only to brag about it, but are actually far happier in the barracks than in boudoirs. This is, perhaps, the real meaning of "Make Love, Not War." We may be destroying ourselves through the repression of homosexuality."

If Watts tweaks your geeter with such quotes as this, you may want to find out more of what he says. The Way of Liberation, edited and transcribed by his son Mark and by Rebecca Shropshire, is a fine introduction to his genius.

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