Conrad Hadland, one of the BC Humanist Association's long-time members, tells the story of his escape from the Jehovah's Witnesses religion.
In my life I have been very lucky, very fortunate. I began my existence with a genetic endowment that allowed me to take advantage of some of the experiences I faced. And at critical times in my growth, I was lucky enough to find people or ideas that allowed me to move out of ideological systems that were limiting my awareness. Thus this quote from Karl Menninger’s “The Vital Balance” rings true to me:
“There is nothing more expressive of a barbarous and stupid lack of culture than the half-unconscious attitude so many of us slip into, of taking for granted, when we see weak, neurotic, helpless, drifting, unhappy people, that it is by some reason of some special merit in us or by reason of some especial favour towards us that the gods have given us an advantage over such persons. The more deeply sophisticated our culture is the more fully are we aware that these lamentable differences in good and bad fortune spring entirely from luck.
“It is luck: luck in our heredity, luck in our environment, that makes the difference; and moreover at any movement fortune’s erratic wheel may turn completely round and we ourselves may be hit by some totally unforeseen catastrophe. It is luck, too, springing from some fortunate encounter, some incredible love affair, some fragment of oracular wisdom in work or writing that has come our way, that launched us on the secret road of health and on the stubborn resolution to be happy under all upshots and issues, which has been so vast a resource to us in fortifying our embattled spirit. At any moment we are liable, the toughest and strongest among us, to be sent howling to a suicidal collapse. It is all a matter of luck; and the more culture we have the more deeply do we resolve that in our own relations with all the human failures and abject and ne’er-do-wells of our world, we shall feel nothing but plain, simple humble reverence before the mystery of misfortune.”
Now I’m going to describe the socialization system I was raised with that lead me to immerse myself in the Jehovah Witness religion. First of all, a bit of the contemporary history of the religion.
The religion started as groups of bible students meeting in people’s homes in the late 19th century who were opposed to some of the conventional churches teachings at the time such as hell fire. At first a democratic process of electing local leaders was followed but gradually a theocratic, which means God ruled, rather than a democratic form of administration was developed. According to the Witnesses, Jehovah is the name of God, based on their interpretation of the Hebrew language. A leading representative of the religion describes their beliefs is this way:
That Jehovah is the only true God. His supremacy has been challenged by Satan, who caused the rebellion in Eden and who puts the integrity of all men to the test. God's primary purpose is the vindication of this supremacy. In carrying out this purpose, God sent Jesus to earth to provide the ransom sacrifice and to lay the foundation for God's new system of things.
Jehovah will not tolerate wickedness on earth forever. The beginning of the end for Satan came when Christ took power in heaven as King. This happened in 1914. Christ's first act was casting Satan out of heaven, and this was followed by great troubles on earth. This will be climaxed in God's battle, Armageddon: the complete destruction of the Devil and his system of things, his world. This is the vindication of Jehovah's name and the beginning of the 1,000‑year reign of Christ. Then all that breathe will praise Jehovah.
Christ is now in his second presence. He will always remain invisible to humans, but his presence is proved by world events since 1914, which fulfill all the predictions of Matthew 24.
Now the Christian's duty is to keep integrity to Jehovah, to announce the King's reign, and to help neighbours find the way to godly service and everlasting life.
I suspect that these beliefs sound as bizarre to you as they now do to me. To explain how early socialization can develop such a “supernatural” mindset I want to give you a bit of my early history.
I grew up in a rural fishing village on an island across the harbour from the city of Prince Rupert on our northwest coast. My father was a fisherman and wooden boat builder and repairer.
Shortly after I started school in the little one room 8-grade schoolhouse, my parents began to get more and more involved with the Jehovah Witness religion. My grandparents lived there along with a number of my uncles and aunts. Many of my extended family got involved in Bible Study meetings sponsored by Jehovah’s witnesses. At first several times a week we would walk down to my grandparents’ house for the so-called Bible studies. We used books and magazines published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The parts of the magazines and the books we studied had questions printed at the bottom of the page for the paragraph being considered. Someone would ask the question and we would search the paragraph to find the answer and then raise our hand to read the answer or to some extent paraphrase it in our own words.
I became very adept at picking out the answer and at an early age was sometimes asked to conduct the meetings when none of the adults wanted to do it. So I would ask the questions, get verbal answers from some of the 10 or 13 people in the living room and then ask someone to read the paragraph out loud. And so on, until the 20 or so paragraphs had been dealt with. We started and ended each meeting with a prayer and at times sung one of the prescribed hymns that were thought appropriate for us. Adherents who were more serious would even study the materials in their homes in advance and even underline the answers in the paragraph so they would be ready to respond when asked.
The leading religious figure in my extended family was my uncle Art. He and his wife demonstrated by how they lived that they truly believed what they espoused. He became a role model for me, something to stretch towards, an example of right Christian living in terms of practising what he believed. He eventually moved from the rural fishing village into the city of Prince Rupert across the harbour where he and his wife worked hard at extending the influence of their religion. Many of my extended family either moved to Prince Rupert or left the area completely. Eventually my family was the only one of the extended family left in the fishing village so we would make two or three boat trips a week to Prince Rupert in order to attend congregation meetings and also to engage in the public preaching work.
Adherents of the religion were encouraged or expected to spend some time each month in trying to bring new people into the religion. Some would do this by calling on people from house to house and when someone expressed interest they would visit them regularly to try to initiate them into the religion. Many would find going from door to door very difficult and so would merely accompany an experienced adherent who would have them participate a little in the door to door preaching. Adherents were encouraged to fulfill a quota of 12 hours each month in the public preaching work. People that were not so articulate could get their quota of hours by standing on the street corners holding up the Watchtower and Awake magazines. Even articulate witnesses would spend time on the street corners with the magazines as the door-to-door preaching work was emotionally taxing for many of us. Once a month at a congregational meeting the past month’s public preaching work for the congregation as a whole would be analyzed as each adherent was expected to complete a form detailing the number of hours spent, the number of magazines, booklets, and books sold.
Serious adherents were encouraged to participate in a training program called the “Theocratic ministry school”. Once a week participants would give sample short sermons on the stage demonstrating their ability to engage in the door to door preaching work. And then their presentation would be evaluated on content and delivery by the official designated to supervise the training program.
Adherents were expected to attend three congregational meetings a week, which usually took a total of 5 hours and then meet as a group several times a week to go out to do the public preaching work so that they could reach their goal of hours spent in the public preaching work. And those of us who didn’t have children or serious financial responsibilities were encouraged to aspire to become what was termed a full-time minister or “pioneer” by spending 100 hours per month in the public preaching work.
We were encouraged only to have close friends who had the same beliefs we had. We were warned that having close friends outside our belief system could lead us astray and away from the true religion.
In place of going on regular holidays, we were encouraged to go to circuit, district, national and international conventions were all the labour including preparing and serving meals was done by volunteers. Volunteering at these conventions gave rise to a spirit of solidarity, a feeling that we were doing Jehovah’s work. Also, at these conventions, special lectures were given which basically reinforced our belief system. An expectation was often generated that at the larger conventions some “new truth” would be revealed and of course it would be unfortunate not to be present when the new understanding would be revealed.
Since we believed that the entire world was in the control of the devil, we did not vote in elections or participate in such things as unions or service organizations. In wartime we were conscientious objectors, as all nations were essentially under the influence of the devil and by our participating in their wars, we would in effect be supporting the devil’s work.
Higher education was of course not encouraged. Learning a trade was OK as it would enable one to support oneself in order to carry out God’s work.
The basic belief was that the end of the world was near. Adherents had been given the task by God to warn the public and give them a chance to repent and accept the true way of worshipping God. God would destroy those that did not accept this message at the battle of Armageddon.
In my teens, I left the Prince Rupert area for several years and obtained training in electronics. When I returned to Prince Rupert at the age of 18, I again fell under the spell of my uncle Art and soon was given leadership responsibilities in the Prince Rupert congregation. Then, after a year of demonstrating my effectiveness in such a role I was asked to give up my job and move to Kitimat, a new Aluminum smelting town about 130 miles by train from Prince Rupert, to start a new Jehovah Witness congregation. I spent 7 years in Kitimat in this capacity and then went to Bolivia in South America for a year as a missionary – but more about that later.
Thus the combination of having the religious themes repeatedly reinforced at congregation meetings, the proclaiming of the same themes in the public preaching work, the reinforcement again of the themes at conventions, the restriction of social contacts outside the congregation and even the discouragement to read materials not authorized by the Jehovah Witness organization itself—all these reinforced the beliefs and restricted any input of alternative ideas about the issues being considered.
So what happened to pull me away from such an intense indoctrination system? A number of events come to mind when I consider this question.
While in charge of the congregation in Kitimat, I, by accident, established a friendly contact with a Pentecostal minister by the name of Leroy Lebeck. We would have coffee from time to time at Helen’s Cafe. I suspect that both of us had visions of converting the other to our “true” faith. He confessed to me that he found it hard at times to keep his faith when exposed to secular education when at College. Now I had been taught that the leaders of so-called Christian churches were working for the devil. But it became increasing difficult for me to put Reverend Lebeck in this category. He seemed to be struggling with some of the issues I felt a bit uneasy about at times. He seemed to be a sincere and caring person.
Then I came across the paperback “Battle for the Mind” by British Psychiatrist William Sargant. It was subtitled “The Mechanics of Indoctrination, Brainwashing and Thought Control.” I had noticed the book on a rack in the Northern Sentinel Stationary Store and had purchased a copy because when skimming the index I came across a reference to Jehovah’s Witnesses which at the time I thought congratulatory. The reference said:
“Those reported as among the best able to preserve their standards and beliefs in the German concentration camps during World War II were members of the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This pacifist religious group has many strange beliefs, but these were implanted with such strength and certainty by their religious leaders as to remain operative when continued debilitation and psychological degradation had reduced most other people of the highest ideals, but no specific loyalties, to accept the very lowest concepts of individual and group morality. A safeguard against conversion is, indeed, a burning and obsessive belief in some other creed or way of life. History shows that well indoctrinated and trained soldiers can be just as brave and stubborn as Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
As I read the book, at first it seemed to me that now I could understand how Reverend Lebeck had gotten the beliefs he espoused. But as time passed, I became uneasy because the same logic I had used from the book to explain him could also be used to explain my faith.
Furthermore, in the public preaching work, calling on people from door-to-door, every once in awhile someone would invite me in, give me a cup of coffee, let me talk and then politely disagree with me. I left in an uneasy frame of mind as I had been taught that I was in the process of separating the sheep from the goats and yet I found it hard to put the fellow who had treated me decently although not accepting my message as a “goat”. The parable of the separating of the sheep and the goats is one of Jesus’ parables.
Another disconcerting experience for me was when the religion published a booklet strongly condemning spirit mediums as agents of the devil. This was, of course, a booklet that we were encouraged to distribute to the public. But one morning at home, I happened to have CBC radio on, the only radio station available in Kitimat at that time, and my ears perked up when I heard a commentary on the investigation of spirit mediums. It turned out that the scientific investigations of spirit mediums through infrared photography had shown that all the cases being checked were fraudulent. My level of uneasiness about the teachings of my religion increased.
Then an acquaintance lent me his copy of an introductory college Psychology course. I was fascinated by its contents despite the fact that I didn’t really have the education to appreciate much of what it said as I as yet did not have a high school graduation.
My curiosities lead me to do quite a bit of reading – even of materials not encouraged by the Jehovah Witness organization. Browsing in a magazine one day I noticed an ad to subscribe to a free correspondence course offered by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization. Shortly afterwards I noticed an ad in another magazine advertising a correspondence course on the Bible from a fundamentalist Christian organization. I mailed away requests for both of these courses, my so-called rationale being to understand them better so I could more effectively counter the adherents of such religions when I encountered them in my public preaching work. I went through some of the lessons and sent in answers to the questions for each lesson as they had requested and even added questions of my own. The reply I got from both religions was to keep on studying and eventually I would understand more completely. This reply was unsatisfying to me. I had written the Jehovah Witness headquarters organization to ask questions and had been answered that Jehovah had not yet revealed to his organization on earth just what the answer would be to such a question. Again, not a satisfying response to a person with questions.
When conducting some congregational meetings in Kitimat, I gradually began asking extra questions that were not printed at the bottom of the page of the paragraph being considered. I found out later that some in the congregation felt I was just trying to act smart. But in reality I was just curious – I wanted to understand.
I discovered the Public Library in Kitimat and in there came across the series by Will and Ariel Durant titled “The Story of Civilization.” Now Will and Ariel Durant were atheists but I did not know that at the time. One of the volumes was titled Caesar and Christ. I skimmed the chapter headings and read chapter 24 which was headed simply “Jesus”. But the first line of the first paragraph jolted me as it stated: “Did Christ exist?” Durant gave the pros and cons evidence for such existence and then summarized his conclusion by stating:
“In summary, it is clear that there are many contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly aiming to establish a historical basis for some later doctrine or ritual of the Church. The evangelists shared with Cicero, Sallust, and Tacitus the conception of history as a vehicle for moral ideas. And presumably the conversations and speeches reported in the Gospels were subject to the frailties of illiterate memories, and the errors or emendations of copyists.
“All this granted, much remains. The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies‑e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates—would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed‑the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.”
While I was intrigued with Durant’s conclusion, the impact of his analysis had much more far-reaching effects on me. Essentially he had, I believe, honestly tried to give the pros and cons of the controversial issue as to whether Jesus existed and then concluded that yes, Jesus did exist, but of course as a human being not a God. But the approach of looking carefully for both or more sides of an issue was powerfully attractive to me and was an approach that I strive to continue to use to this day. But of course, it tended to have a fermenting impact on me for issues presented in dogmatic absolute terms.
My frustrations led me to become intolerably uncomfortable in my role as the presiding minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Kitimat congregation. I wanted out of that role but did not know how to evacuate. It appeared impossible simply to “resign” as the presiding minister. One simply didn’t do this – one had in effect been appointed to the position by Jehovah himself through his representatives on earth. So eventually I decided to in effect promote myself in the organization by voluntarily leaving the Kitimat congregation to go, using Witness terminology, to serve “where the need is great.”
I decided to leave Canada and move to Bolivia because investigation indicated it and Paraguay were the poorest countries in South America and I knew a person who had been a missionary there and he inspired me with his tales of events he had experienced while down there. Even at that time I had a fascination of how people lived in other parts of the world.
My wife and I left Kitimat in December of 1991 and stayed with my parents in Burnaby for a month and a half before leaving by plane for La Paz, Bolivia. My curiosity about the world lead me to pick up the Vancouver Sun on a quite regular basis and I came across a full page ad advertising adult night school classes, some of which were offered in a high school within walking distance of my parent’s home. My budding curiosity lead me to enrol in three of these courses even though they would only be half through by the time we were scheduled to fly to South America. I got so involved in the courses – (political situation in Europe – comparative religions etc) that I was reluctant to leave Canada but felt compelled to go as we already had our tickets, and our extended family had great expectations for us as missionaries in a foreign country.
We moved to Cochabama in Bolivia but my attempt to “get my faith back” didn’t work. As I spent more time with the Bolivians, what I was offering them through the Jehovah’s witnesses seemed increasingly irrelevant to their real needs. I took up a part time job teaching English at El Centro Boliviano Americano and thus had access to a limited library in the English language. I taught classes for a variety of ages and at times I tried to get discussions going about ideas. They would laugh at my Spanish and I would smile at their English.
Now we come to an event that I consider the critical collapse of my supernatural mindset. I was scheduled as my part in the local congregation’s Theocratic Ministry School to read a chapter in the Bible to the congregation in Spanish and introduce and conclude it in my own words. Thus I spent a fair bit of time becoming familiar with the chapter which I had not paid much attention to before. The chapter was 2 Samuel 24. It describes how King David of the Israelite nation had taken a census of the nation. The prophet Gad, who was the intermediary between God and David, notified David that God was quite angry at David for doing such a thing and that as punishment for this misdeed, David had his choice of three punishments:
“Should there come to you seven years of famine in your land, or three years of your fleeing before your adversaries, with them pursuing you, or the occurring of three days of pestilence in your land?”
David chose for God to send the pestilence. As the account says:
“Then Jehovah gave a pestilence in Israel from the morning until the time appointed, so that out of the people from Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand persons died. And the angel kept his hand thrust out toward Jerusalem to bring it to ruin; and Jehovah began to feel regret over the calamity, and so he said to the angel that was bringing ruin among the people. ‘It is enough! Now let your hand drop.’”
A few years earlier I might have read that passage without much thought, but now, all of a sudden, a light seemed to dawn in my consciousness. How could I worship a God who acted in such a malicious way simply because David had taken a census? I pondered the chapter with my excitement rising and then concluded that likely there had been a plague or pestilence at that time, and the scientific knowledge at the time was so inadequate that the religious leaders felt that the nation must have been guilty of something in God’s sight and the only unusual thing that had happened recently was that David had taken the census. And so God had sent the pestilence to punish the nation.
My excitement continued as I started looking at the Bible in a wholly new light – not trying to interpret it as a totally coherent revelation of God and his wishes for humanity but merely as the record made by men who were trying to understand the world around then with the best speculations they were able to come with at that time. The divine authority of the Bible collapsed for me on that day like the blowing over of a house of cards in a gust of wind. But now what was I going to do? While excited with my breakthrough of understanding, I suspect I never felt so alone in the world. My whole socially constructed world was collapsing around me ears.
My excitement continued for the next few days. I had taken a few books with me when I moved to Bolivia – mostly books about religion published by the Jehovah Witness publishing company. But there was one book in particular that was a bit different. Several years earlier I had been down in Portland, Oregon at a Jehovah Witness convention and while passing through a department store not far from where the convention was going on I noticed in the book department this book A Guide to the Religions of America. I had bought the book because it had a chapter about Jehovah’s Witnesses written by a leading Witness. I had never read any of the other chapters describing the other religions but now I was eager to consider the book in more detail. It even had chapters written by an agnostic, a scientist and a non-churchgoer. It was with great excitement that I started perusing the entire contents of the book.
The chapter on agnosticism was written by Bertrand Russell and it animated me greatly. He started out by answering the question: Are agnostics atheists?
“No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds with for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an agnostic many hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case he is not far removed from atheism. His attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would have toward the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments. An agnostic may think the Christian God as improbable as the Olympians; in that case, he is, for practical purposes, at one with the atheists.”
I also found the chapter on Unitarianism thought-provoking. In discussing what Unitarians believed about Jesus, the account said:
Unitarians love the person and message of the great Galilean. They consider him one of the rarest of personalities that have walked among men. Jesus is one of the greatest religious teachers, and Unitarians endorse his prophetic preaching, his moral teaching, and his spiritual insight. But Unitarians of all times have stubbornly refused to “make a god” of one who was so utterly human in all his words and deeds, and who once even protested against being called “good.”
The final chapter was titled: Sixty-four Million Americans Do Not Go to Church: What Do They Believe? Jerome Nathanson, who at the time was chairman of the board of Leaders of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, wrote it. He was also a director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Those organizations meant nothing to me at the time, but I was particularly impressed by the quote he used to conclude his article.
May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides… May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me, may I escape…without the need of hurting him. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none… When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends… May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent…. May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another. May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help… to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger… May I respect myself…. May I always keep tame that which rages within me… May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.
No, this is not the prayer of a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Quaker teacher. These words are those of Eusebius, a “pagan” who lived some two thousand years ago. In these words is the voice of man’s best hope on earth.
A month after my breakthrough into thinking beyond the infallibility of the Bible, we returned to Vancouver. One of the first things I did after resting up after a four-day bus trip from Mexico City was to check the Vancouver phone book to see if any of the organizations I had read about were represented in Vancouver. The only one I found was the Unitarian Church where meetings were held on Sunday mornings down on 10th Avenue. The first Sunday after returning from Bolivia my wife and I attended the service there and heard Philip Hewett giving a sermon. I don’t pretend to remember or even to have understood what Philip was saying on that day, but I remember having an exciting feeling that the ideas he was talking about were ideas I wanted to reach out for and understand. And so started my involvement with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.
Shortly after this I wrote to the American Humanist Association and to the Unitarian North American Headquarters in Boston asking them to clarify the difference between the two groups. I received friendly letters from both groups indicating that there was considerable overlap of members between the two organizations and that a number of Unitarian ministers had played a major role in drafting the Second Humanist Manifesto. And as I explored Unitarianism I felt quite comfortable in the philosophy that tended to permeate the Unitarian Church of Vancouver at that time. So much so that I was instrumental in establishing the Prince Rupert Unitarian Fellowship during my stay there and also participating in the Fraser Valley Unitarian Fellowship when I moved to Abbotsford a little over 12 years ago.
Shortly after moving to Abbotsford from Prince Rupert, I discovered that Pat Duffy Hutcheon shared my growing concern about the fading away of humanist approaches in the Unitarian Church of Vancouver and together we started the Humanist Discussion group of the church, which still continues to this day. However, it appears to me that the influence of Humanism in the church is declining as many of the new adherents seem to favour more of a New Age approach to life rather that the rational, considered approach based on evolutionary naturalism favoured by most humanists. The statement about Unitarianism that had moved me to join the Vancouver church many years earlier said this:
We are a free church. We do not impose any creed upon ministers or members. We maintain an inclusive fellowship that welcomes all men and women of goodwill, without regard to differences of race or background or theological belief.
We respect the insights that have been expressed within all the great religions of the world, because we believe that truth is not the monopoly of any sect, but is to be discovered through free inquiry and mutual understanding.
We guard the right of the human mind to follow the light of reason wherever it may lead us. All do not agree to think alike, but all alike agree to think.
We welcome the discoveries of scientists, the perceptivity of artists and the contribution of all forms of culture to clearer understanding and fuller living. We do not ask whether ideas are old or new, but whether they are false or true.
We look upon facts as sacred, and not to be distorted in the interests of any scheme or system. Our beliefs must be governed by a respect for facts, not by what someone tells us we ought to believe, nor by what we personally would prefer to believe.
We see in the spirit of love the most basic expression of religion. We try to build bridges of love and understanding across the face of this divided world, embracing not only the entire human community but also the natural environment apart from which we cannot survive.
We reverence all the good that the past has known, but we refuse to live on our capital. Our faith is therefore always a new adventure.
I can still support such a statement but it does not appear to be part of the mainstream of Unitarian thinking at this time. Organizations evolve – sometimes in directions we might not feel comfortable with and for some of us there comes a time to move on.
In conclusion let be briefly say that my “conversion” experience from Jehovah’s Witnesses has impacted my approach to a wide range of belief systems. My approach to political, economic, environmental, feminist, psychotherapeutic and other belief systems is usually quite tentative. Some of my friends want to fit me into some sort of category and if I don’t seem to fit they want to log me into the opposite category. For example, I have had friends imbued with both the Marxist and Libertarian ideologies, and both sides have got frustrated with me because it appears that I’m a bit of both. And when it comes to an issue like globalization, my impulse is to consider the pros and cons of such an issue rather than emphatically label the issue good or bad. Again, in the sometimes intense debate between so-called religious and secular humanists, my friends experience the same frustration. Depending upon definitions, I am partly a religious humanist and partly a secular one. I suppose that my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses has vaccinated me against wholeheartedly giving up my rational nature to any intense belief system. I suspect that is why I find the tentativeness of the scientific method so appealing and satisfying.
In this connection, I wish to quote from Pat’s book an argument she makes that I find compelling. This is the second to the last paragraph of her book.
“In the past, humanist organizations have sometimes made a serious mistake in attempting to define the movement by what they opposed rather than what they stood for. Merely being against superstition and transcendental religion is, in itself, no guarantee of humanism. Another common error has been to define humanism in political rather than philosophical terms. But the problems faced by humanity are far too complex for us to suppose that any particular program (whether socialist, populist, liberal or conservative) is the only right way to proceed. A commitment to the scientific approach in the search for morally justifiable solutions to society’s ills should be seen as an invitation to all who have the intellectual openness to join us in that quest. It implies, as well, a willingness to assess and alter political means continuously, in the light of new evidence gained from experience. Such an approach carries with it no guarantee of ‘political correctness’ or of timeless truth.”
The book is titled The Road to Reason – Landmarks in the Evolution of Humanist Thought and is published by Canadian Humanist Publications. The quote I just read is just a small sample of the wisdom within the book.
To conclude I wish to read you a poem written by one of my favourite poets, James Kavanaugh. He asks the question: Who will make the City joyful? I trust that all of us can find ourselves in his answer to his question.
Who Will Make the City Joyful?
Who will make the city joyful
Who will wipe away its tears?
Who will fill the streets with gladness
Who will calm the old folks’ fears?
Who will tell the children stories
Who will make their clear eyes gleam?
Who will keep the men from killing
Who will give the women dreams?
Maybe twenty thousand minstrels
Twenty thousand poets’ words
Maybe fifty thousand dancers
Maybe clowns and talking birds
Flowers on all the city’s corners
Trees on all the city streets
Maybe fragrance from the sewers
Sing-alongs in subway seats.
Maybe buses painted purple
Maybe no more numbered days
Bells that ring in all the buildings
Merchants learning how to play
Maybe parks for picnic lunches
Waterfalls and bubbling streams
Maybe flowers on cold computers—
Crowning IBM machines.
Maybe plumbers playing trumpets
Salesmen strumming their guitars
Lawyers nursing tender flowers
Businessmen exploring stars
Maybe potters, weavers, artists
Craftsmen, architects who dare,
Maybe muralists and sculptors
Maybe anyone who cares.
Maybe honest politicians
Radicals with angry screams
Maybe socialists and Marxists
Maybe silent men who dream
Maybe shoppers loving beggars
Gently smiling flower maids
Those who listen to the children
Those who still enjoy parades.
Who will sit among the flowers
See the sun and sky above?
Who will make the city joyful
Who will make us laugh and love?
Maybe mothers loving babies
Maybe gentle eyes that see.
Or beyond the other maybes
Maybe you and maybe me.