All the religions see the human condition as problematic. In Buddhism, the basic reality of the human condition is that life is pain. For Christians, the human being is a fallen creature destined to be sinful and fated to suffer the ills that come from that state. Even our own Felix Adler, who took religion seriously, felt that in our ability to seek after ideals from which we always fall short, frustration is the inevitable fate of the human being. By his own admission, Adler subscribed to a “tragic view of life.”
At the same time as describing the human condition as problematic, the religions put forward prescriptions for getting us beyond our problematic state. The most highly developed prescriptions to escape the imperfections inherent in the human condition are found in the mystical traditions of the respective faiths. In briefest terms, the mystical tradition seeks to identify us and our experience with the immediacy of the moment. It develops disciplines to escape the contingencies of life that negative experiences impose on us or anxieties generated by fear of the future. In short, there is no past nor future, just at eternal now.
But what does humanism prescribe? Does it suggest that we attempt to escape the travails that accompany our normal experience and find refuge in a state beyond pain and suffering? Or is there perhaps a middle path that enables us to embrace the experiences and challenges life imposes on us, but do so with greater equanimity and less suffering and anguish?
At our September 15, 2019 Sunday Platform, Leader Joe Chuman looked at a possible humanistic answer to life’s problems in my first address of the new season.