SPIRITUAL HUMANISM – Transcending the rational/scientific model for human well-being.

It would seem not unreasonable to suggest that for the Humanist movements to arrive at the most realistic comprehension of reality, which of necessity has to include the human condition as such, the full spectrum of human potential will have to be engaged for such an enquiry to be comprehensive and truly representative of human life. No movement towards a  penetrating and integral understanding of life can take place in the context of a limited, and self-limiting, definition of the human condition.  To consider reality in the fullest way possible, the human spirit of enquiry has to be set free unconditionally for it to engage itself at all levels of investigation, both outwardly and inwardly:  outwardly in how we see and experience our world; inwardly in how we view and experience ourselves.

To view manifest existence as a scientifically verifiable series of objects, and successful human living primarily as a consequence of pure reason, is to limit and condition human experience within a philosophy of scientific rationalism which ultimately cannot deliver on humankind’s never-ending quest for integral living.  Yet, this seems to be the position held by many within the Humanist movements worldwide, and more pronouncedly so by those who consider themselves Secular Humanists.

Secular Humanism generally advocates a rational, secular view of life, compatible with scientific method in its pursuit of knowledge.  It regards reason and rationality as its ultimate measures for all human interaction with the world.  It rejects the supernatural and views areas of human expression such as intuition, inspiration, revelation, altered states of consciousness and emotion as potentially useful sources of information, but ultimately subject to rational evaluation. Secular Humanists therefore regard rationality as the final arbiter and embrace a life of free thinking, open-mindedness, democratic values and the discovery of relationships with the world as sanctioned and comprehended by what they consider to be the rational mind.

To my understanding Humanism, as a broad movement within human development, striving to achieve the best possible living conditions, not only for humanity as a whole, but also on the personal level with regards to relational integrity, emotional stability and individual well-being, should be cautious to identify itself too intimately and exclusively with the notions of rationality and science.  To explore human potential exclusively from within the scientific-rational model is to reduce human life to something empirically verifiable, objectively measurable and scientifically provable.

However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that human life is vastly more complex and multi-textured  for it to fit neatly into any scientific/rational framework.   Any attempt, therefore, to reduce human life to mere scientific rationalism would  inevitably marginalize those aspects of human experience which cannot be rationally explained or scientifically verified.

Science is the art of fragmentation and specialization, and the rational mind its most fundamental source of information, inspiration and methodology. However, human life cannot be fully comprehended by fragmenting it into what may appear to scientific enquiry as manageable, observable and predictable units of living expression to be objectively observed, investigated and controlled. On the contrary, human life is a rather fluid affair, and the rational mind, useful and important as it no doubt is when appropriately applied, cannot come to a full and complete understanding of the totality of human potential.  In fact, it could be reasonably argued that the rational instrument could become a profound obstacle to full human unfolding should it be allowed to operate in areas  where it no longer serves the paradigm of activity for which it was given to us by nature.

And this brings us to one of the dilemmas inherent in the rationalist philosophy of Secular Humanism:  by rejecting ‘altered states of consciousness’,  it also rejects the potential within humankind to fully comprehend and transcend the inherent limitations of the rational mind.    A valuable question arises here: what is the norm by which ‘altered states of consciousness’ are evaluated?  And could such a rather indiscriminate pre-emptive strike against the possibility of other, deeper states of both intelligent and emotional awareness – often characterized by a more comprehensive way of dealing with the challenges facing us –  still be regarded as compatible with the Humanist’s declared goal of  ‘open-mindedness and freedom of discovery’?

Clearly not.  Rational thinking is only one of the very valuable instruments available to the psychophysical being.  It should not be regarded as the only measure by which we seek an integrated living experience.  For instance, rational thought, important as it may be for directing many aspects of coherent human functioning, including scientific and technological investigation, is not the instrument through which emotional order, compassion, charity, true humaneness and  wholeness of living reality could be established.  The rational mind can imitate these and make rules and images of what these could mean and how these should be effected , but no thinking can produce the purity and living reality of those aspects of our humanity which, given the right inner conditions, manifest quite naturally as profoundly human and  humane qualities.

To my understanding, ‘humane living’ is not a product of scientific rationalism.  To be humane is not merely to be human.  Many humans, often even the most rational and scientifically orientated amongst us, can display rather disconcerting signs of inhumaneness.  To regard rationalism, therefore,  as a total strategic method for establishing a truly humanistic society on earth, is to commit the same error all dogmatism tends to generate:  it turns rationalism into a belief-system no different to how our traditional religions presented themselves as universal panacea for our human ills. Similarly to how religions believe that their gods and saviors will come to the rescue and install a humane and compassionate society here on earth, the notion that scientific rationalism could serve this purpose is equally based on an uninspected and partial view of the human condition. It is not a complete Humanistic view – not if Humanism were to incorporate the total spectrum of human potential.

As long as rationalism and science alone form the basis of our Humanist investigation into inner and outer order, such order will be conditioned, controlled and determined, not by the totality of our human potential, (which to my understanding would reflect a truly Humanistic position)  but rather by instruments which were not designed to allow for a holistic approach to humane living.

Rationality serves the psychophysical being in a specific, and often very appropriate fashion, but ultimately cannot be trusted to promote a tolerant, responsible and open society. In fact it could be argued that it was exactly the un-emotional and uncompassionate use of rationality that could create such masterpieces of social disorganization, suppression of people, malevolent social systems and destructive devices as we have seen manifested in the South African Apartheid system, the inhumane dictatorships of the Communist world, the development of the atomic bomb and other such products of rationality devoid of emotion and compassion.

I come from South Africa where some of the best minds in the country sat in parliament, year after year, devising meticulous structures and methods of social organization dedicated to the suppression of millions of their fellow countrymen. The rational mind, devoid of a deep sense of feeling, emotion, compassion and unconditioned intelligence can create and rationalize many profoundly destructive ways of living.  Based in fragmentation, specialization and partial insight, rational thought can very easily become an instrument for destruction and fragmentation of human life.  Once fragmentation has become the basis by which rational thought orders our lives, human life takes on the form of this fragmentary process. And, as J.Krishnamurti once observed: ‘Fragmentation breeds conflict’.

Rational thought, in its association with scientific enquiry, has created much misery in the world.  To my understanding there is evidently no necessary connection between rational thought and science on the one hand, and humane living on the other.  A humane world  will of necessity be characterized by compassion,  mutual care and true openness of our hearts and minds. But these are not products of the rational process: rather these manifest when the rational mind is put aside and other deeper qualities of human potential for inner and outer organization are allowed to become manifest and active within our everyday functioning..

Scientific rationalism negates these rather subjective aspects of humankind, and has often portrayed them, rather condescendingly, as mere theatre for our irrational emotions.  However, Humanism that is founded in scientific rationalism alone, devoid of the truly subjective in humanity, can only result in partial, incomplete human realization, showing few signs of the humane within us.

The reason for this failure of rationalism to create inner and outer order lies in the observable fact that as humans we do not operate in a purely rational manner. As one of the instruments of our psychophysical being, rational thought plays a crucial part in its survival potential. But whereas rational thought may be a prominent player with regards to the creation of outer order, which includes scientific enquiry and  technological advancement, it is not the instrument to facilitate the appropriate use of our emotional potential.  Rational thought cannot create love, compassion, true ‘humaneness’, tolerance, empathy or genuine sympathy for others.

The rational mind can only think about these matters. Yet, the appropriate manifestation of these feeling-qualities and the direct experience of our deeper human potential are pivotal to our inner order and therefore to its expression in the outer world. True humane living can thus not be limited to merely one aspect of its functional potential.  We need to function from as wide a human base as possible to secure both human survival and the fulfillment of a ’humane’ living environment where our true well-being is of primary importance..

A  tolerant, responsible, free and democratic society is indeed the natural consequence of  ‘open-mindedness’.  But open-mindedness is not merely a result of pure reason.  True open-mindedness is a natural consequence of self-reflection, introspection and the discovery of ways of human functioning that reflects and utilizes all our human faculties, including reason, emotion, the intelligence of love and compassion, artistic expression and appreciation,  insight, the clarity of a quiet mind and the transpersonal, non-dual truth of human life.

The enquiry into these cannot be limited to scientific method.  No doubt science does assist the human process in general.  But science cannot effectively deal with the subtlety of the human system as a whole.  To be humane, and to create a humane society, require the expression of our total humanity. It is not merely a result of right thinking: it is as much a result of right emotion, right relationship and right attitude – in short, right living as a whole, utilizing the entire spectrum of human potential.

The word ‘humane’ is nuanced by its emotional content.  It presupposes not mere rationality but rather points to a kind of reasonableness where  emotion forms an integral part of the decision-making process.  To be humane is therefore not only to be rational: it is to allow our rationality to be tempered by the presence and insight of other deeper faculties such as compassion, holistic vision and, ultimately, a thoroughly self-transcendent disposition.  For these qualities to manifest require a considerably wider development of our human potential than just relying on the rational instrument as our source of information. Without these fundamental human qualities in clear evidence, humane living is not possible.  And in this regard, no reference needs to be made to the supernatural, godly, other-worldly or mystical.

To transcend the rational is not to reject it: it is to incorporate it as an important component of human functioning, but not to regard it as the only measure for human interaction with life.  Human living is an unfathomably rich tapestry of subtle potential and my concern with the insights into the human condition as explained by many within the  Humanist movements is that there appears to be an uninspected movement towards limiting and controlling human activity through fragmentation and the kind of simplistic rationality that finds such an approach agreeable or even necessary.

And it seems to me that only self-knowledge, obtained through self-observation and self-exploration, could facilitate the awakening of our humaneness as a true expression of our humanness.  Such introspection could not be considered to be compatible with scientific method.  Working within the human situation as a whole, including our self-transcendent potential, has to be explored rather than us attempting to marginalize it pre-emptively just because the rational mind cannot fathom its depths of insight and true emotional responsiveness.  This requires a deeper commitment to the ideals of tolerance, responsibility and an open, free and democratic society than the rational process is capable of.

I am not questioning the profound value of these high Humanist ideals. These are beautiful and absolutely necessary for human co-existence.  My concern is that  the instrument (rational thought) which many Humanist movements all over the world regard as their ultimate instrument to rely on for successful living and  which is supposed to lead us from inhumanity to humanity, from mere humanness to humaneness, is fundamentally incapable of delivering on its promises.  It is part of the limitations of the rational mind to believe it is the instrument through which humane living could be established. Only introspection of, and deep reflection on, this belief could penetrate the inaccuracy of this fundamental flaw in the deliberations of the rational instrument. And such introspection appears to be sadly lacking within the Humanist movement.

Co-existence is not the result of scientific method.  It is the natural consequence of humane interaction.  And to my understanding the rationalist movement should deeply re-assess  its identification with scientific enquiry and perhaps consider steering  its investigations into the human situation towards such practices as meditation, self-reflection, emotional enquiry, psychological well-being and the unfolding  of compassion as the most practical, humane and humanist approaches to living. In addition to this, the Humanist movement may have to give serious consideration to ways of human exploration which lies beyond the separate self-sense, i.e. an investigation into the transpersonal.  These are areas of  human activity for which the rational mind is not wired.

Until these forms of exploration become central to the Humanist enquiry into ‘humane’ living, I am afraid, our high ideals as Humanists will find great difficulty manifesting as living reality.  Humaneness cannot be imposed  onto oneself as a concept and then willed into existence. The great religions have tried this.  They have been preaching brotherly love as a form of external discipline for many centuries, without any significant evidence of it being successful. We are today as bewildered, violent, unloving and self-centered as we have been all along our tenuous relationship with the notions of brotherly love, compassion and inner harmony. Humaneness is a natural result of quiet introspection, self-reflection, meditation and, perhaps above all, the opening up of the entire psychophysical being to areas of inner exploration that naturally manifest beyond the borders of pure rationality, ego-consciousness and the scientific-materialistic paradigm.

In my book: Spirituality Without God, I explore  ways of reconsidering human life from a truly secular perspective,  incorporating all possible states of human experience which may facilitate the natural unfolding of  our total humanity.  For the lack of a better term, I call this approach: ‘Spiritual Humanism’. By accepting that rational thinking is itself deeply influenced by cultural, social and personal conditioning and prejudices, Spiritual Humanism does not depend on this inconsistent and unreliable instrument alone for successful living.  Rather, it adheres resolutely to the Humanist principle of open-mindedness, yet, incorporates also the concepts of open-heartedness and wholeness.

Whereas rationalist Humanism placed a lid on all forms of human investigation and subtle exploration which cannot be verified by the rational instrument, Spiritual Humanism explores every aspect of human life with an open mind and an open heart.  It does not start its enquiry from a pre-determined conclusion relative to which instrument is most suitable for investigating life.  Neither does it frown upon aspects of human expression which may not comfortably fit into the conditions and categories of rational thought.  Rather, here the emphasis is on discovering the widest use of human potential in as intelligent a manner as possible in any given situation. This naturally suggests that all human faculties should be consciously accessed and activated  for human life to become a complete expression of human ability.

But what is understood by the word ‘Spiritual’ in an uncompromisingly Humanistic approach to life such as Spiritual Humanism suggests?

Spiritual Humanism acknowledges the totality of human potential, which sees all inner functions such as the rational mind, emotional responsiveness, relational integrity, honesty, insight, artistic sensitivity, compassion and charity, open-mindedness, the appreciation of nature and other human beings, sexual love, parental love, brotherly love, care for one another, meditative experiences – including self-transcendent states  of awareness and wholeness and  all other inner qualities of unconditioned emotion and happiness as integral to the human spirit. It is these, not only the function of rational thinking,  that make us uniquely human. And unless we learn how to allow for the holistic unfolding, expression and integration of these into our daily living, our humanity will be reduced to a mere fragment of its potential.

Spiritual Humanism is therefore not a philosophy and makes no claims that cannot be substantiated on present evidence.  What it says about the human condition is based on a most comprehensive exploration of  human life. And this exploration has brought me to the clear understanding that there are necessary aspects of human potential which need to be drawn on which simply cannot be encompassed within the paradigm of scientific rationalism.

The Humanist movement, if it were to serve humanity in its widest context possible and to fulfill its promise of being a genuine expression of humankind as a whole, will have to include in its explorations and deliberations also the need for the methodical transcendence of  rationality with its materialistic worldview. In fact, what is rejected by Secular Humanism as ‘altered states of consciousness’ are indeed states of conscious awareness, acknowledged and honored by Spiritual Humanism as integral aspects of human development. During such states of inner quiet we discover qualities of human life which radically transcend ordinary conditioned ways of relating to circumstances. And it would seem perfectly appropriate to refer to such states of insight and wholeness as ‘altered states of consciousness’ without the need to regard these as mystical, religious, esoteric or in any way ‘other-than-human’.

Often there is a deeper intelligence associated with such states of greater awareness which are normally completely obscured by the over-anxious interplay between our conditioned rational thinking and the challenges of life.  These are not mystical, revelatory or godly-inspired.  These are integrally part of our human spirit, and their true value could only be appreciated and be made part of our daily living once their subtle manifestation is allowed for.  From this it may be evident that Spiritual Humanism should not be mistaken for a kind of religious Humanism which still often reflects some or other aspect of the Great Other which forms the basis of all religions and mystical paths.

Spiritual Humanism rejects all forms of presumed revelatory authority emanating from some superhuman being or its activities. But neither does it go to the other extreme by rejecting that which cannot be scientifically verified or evaluated in the light of the rational process.  Spiritual Humanism is the Humanist’s alternative to both conventional spirituality and the materialistic vision of  Secular Humanism. It presents a true Middle Way which affords humankind with the tools necessary to create a humane society, free from either materialistic/rational or religious/spiritual dogmas. It suggests a determined attitude of open enquiry into the human condition as a whole before it comes to any conclusions about what may or may not be the appropriate instruments with which to meet the challenges facing us.

Spiritual Humanism is an attempt to explain the deep spiritual aspect of humanity from an uncompromising Humanistic perspective.  It is therefore not only an unambiguous Humanistic statement: it also  explores many of the subtle forms of human potential and guides the human spirit of enquiry to a fully integrated mental,  emotional and spiritual life.  This understanding considers reality in its relation to our total being and offers clear guidelines on how to awaken to our deep human potential and to make every aspect of it functional in ordinary living.

As a true alternative to conventional spirituality, Spiritual Humanism  provides a way of looking at life which could fulfill the deepest quest for meaning, emotional stability, intelligence and humane living. In this way this enquiry proposes a Humanistic resolve to the ever-widening schism within the Humanist movement worldwide where many are sensing the lack of something deeper and more fulfilling to their lives, yet with nothing more substantial to fall back on than scientific materialism and the limited, conditioned vision of rational thinking.  This could be seen as an inherent and fundamental shortcoming within the Humanist movement.

In conclusion allow me to say that I regard Humanism as the only vision for the future of humankind.  Our guru’s have failed us.  Our religions are mere comfort zones for our emotional and psychological bewilderment.  Science cannot free itself from its fundamental attachment to materialism.  Rationality is flawed with conditioned emotional and factual prejudice. The mystical paths present us with little else but thousands of years of mere intellectualizing and uninspected repetition of presumed revelatory truths.

These are all based on an unwillingness to investigate the human situation directly from within the living reality of human life itself .  This has left a sensitive divide between the human search for genuineness, integrity and the true meaning to life on the one hand, and the ‘answers’ to these challenges offered to us culturally and traditionally.

The true answer to human life lies in the total human condition alone.  This is why I consider it of such critical importance that the Humanist movements should take great care in how they describe and define themselves.  The opposite of religious folly is not found merely in its rejection, but rather in the deep enquiry into the nature of where the whole thing went wrong in the first place.  In this way, human life, as a total movement within the natural order of things, could be established as the only measure for successful living.

We as Humanists alone can alert humanity to a different way of life – a way that may lead to a complete development of our potential based on nothing but a radically free Humanistic disposition.  This, no doubt, may prove to be an arduous undertaking.  Yet, if  the Humanists of this world want to play a meaningful role in the future of humankind,  they would do well to recognize the potential within human life beyond the confines of scientific rationalism and allow for the investigation and unfolding of all our subtle, transcendent human qualities as an integral part of the Humanist movement.

Möller de la Rouvière


e-mail: mollerdlr@telkomsa.net

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