Ronald Haines, Author

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Category: Existential Humanism

posts about existential humanism

Something is Wrong, Happiness is a Choice

Something is wrong with the way people are living their lives:
  • When the most common regret of dying people is that they didn’t live their lives being true to themselves, and instead did what others expected of them.
  • When people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others and settle for a mediocre existence, never becoming the person they are capable of being.

    something is wrong

    something is wrong

  • When fear of change causes people to pretend to others and to themselves that they are content, when deep within they long to laugh and have the silliness of childhood back in their lives.
  • When a third (32%) of Americans admit that they regret many of the major life decisions they have made and wish they had taken more risks when making those decisions.
  • When asked to design their ideal life, half (49%) of Americans respond that they would like to live a life unique to their own interests instead of following a traditional path.
  • When people do not realize that happiness is a choice they can make by breaking free of the comfort of the familiar and the established.

Do not wait for the clarity of impending death before you realize that something is wrong in your own life when you can gain that clarity now, and live a life filled with happiness and personal satisfaction. Follow my blog at the existentialhumanism.com website and also sign up for your FREE pre-release copy of my upcoming book about how to live an authentic life.

For more information about some of the source material for this subject, click below:

Allianz Life commissioned a study which was released in May, 2016 called One-Third of Americans Regret Major Life Choices, But Many Embrace Newfound Opportunity to “Rechart” Course.

The Guardian posted a story in February, 2012 about the Top Five Regrets of The Dying.

An Ideal Religion Checklist

For an individual who might be considering a different religion, an ideal religion checklist could be very useful.

What is religion

Before defining the components of the ideal religion, we should first define what religion is.  If you asked people that question in Europe or the Americas you might get a definition of Christianity, whereas in China the answer might be Buddhism or in the Middle East it would be Islam.

Some people might say religion requires a belief in god or gods. But there are many atheistic religions in the world, and in the United States of America the government recognizes atheism itself as a religion.

Another response may be that religion at least involves a belief system, but humanism and other religions who extol questioning actually shun the concept of belief.

We therefore need a definition that all religions would all fit into, a working definition of what religion actually is. Perhaps a more fundamental approach is not to analyze what religion is, but to examine why it exists and how it is structured.

Religion provides answers

Throughout history religions have arisen in an attempt to provide the answers to questions about life in general. They developed from within various cultures and reflect the body of knowledge available to those people at that time.  Religion therefore initially exists to provide the individual with answers in the form of a structured view of the world.

Religion provides community

Humans are social creatures, and religion is also is a social construct offering the individual a sense of belonging or community with other people with like minds by providing them with a common world view. A second definition of religion, then, is that it gives the individual a sense of community.

Religions create institutions

As religions develop over time they become hierarchical institutions and soon become focused on the institution itself rather than the individuals they were originally intended to serve. They also elevate certain members of their societies into privileged ‘priest classes’ who then develop self-serving resistance to change and promote themselves in an authoritative position of the religion over the followers.

When they offer only static solutions religions fail to allow for the dynamic of change as new information is discovered. Rather than seeking fresh answers to new questions, institutionalized religions instead fall back on established dogma and view alternative ideas or emerging religions as threats which they feel compelled to oppose, often by force or exclusion from the society itself.  The more they become institutionalized, the more religions lose their ability to provide satisfying answers.

Religions create group mentality

As religious institutions become more intolerant they cause their followers to fall into an ‘us versus them’ mentality and even try to deprive them of the freedom to associate with those who have conflicting views without condemnation.

Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Ethics of Ambiguity, argues that embracing our own personal freedom requires us to fight for the freedoms of all. This sentiment can appropriately be used when discussing freedom of religion and strongly suggests that, to be successful, a religion should also recognize other religions and respect the choices made by individuals to subscribe to whichever one works the best for them.

An Ideal Religion

Since humans are social creatures with the need to ask questions about everything, an ideal religion should be able to satisfy those needs without being threatened by the dynamic of change as new information is discovered.   An ideal religion would be flexible enough to embrace and incorporate these changes, or help guide the individual to their own answers by providing them with the means to seek knowledge and truth on their own.

Ideal Religion Checklist

Using the information from above, we are then able to define an ideal religion as one which has the following five characteristics:

  1. Satisfies an individual’s need for knowledge about their relationship with the world
  2. Is focused on the individual’s needs rather than on preserving the group
  3. Provides a shared worldview with others
  4. Is flexible and allows for updates as new information becomes available
  5. Is tolerant of other points of view and treats all humans with respect

We now have a simple checklist for the individual seeking a different religion to evaluate it.

Religion and Angst in Today’s World

We hear a lot in the news nowadays about the newest religion being no religion at all as many people are abandoning their long held religious beliefs. Established religious doctrine is simply no longer working for them as they try to make sense of the modern world, and the resulting feeling of unrest, angst, is causing a significant religious exodus.

How is it that religions that have been a source of answers and comfort for people for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years suddenly appear to be broken? Certainly there are multiple and varied reasons on the individual level, but by standing back and taking a big picture look the driving force behind this movement becomes quite clear.  Religions arose concurrently with civilizations in more-or-less homogeneous, stable societies, but societies today are rapidly becoming less homogeneous and people are being exposed to new information and scientific discoveries on an almost daily basis.

While increased knowledge and more information about the world is certainly a positive occurrence, in many cases it has caused people to question what their particular religions may have led them to believe, and this conflict between long held beliefs and current information encourages them to reach out for answers to calm their growing feelings of angst.

People have historically looked to their religions for a sense of comfort, community and a ‘track to run on’ through life, and to give them a sense of who they are relative to the world at large. Unfortunately, when people reach out today in search of answers the traditional solutions offered by their religious leaders frequently results in more angst.  Worse, doing so often compounds it by adding a sense of guilt about this “incorrect thinking” which many find they can do nothing about.  Dissatisfied and not willing to simply stop thinking, these are the people who are leaving their religions in search of something that will be a better fit for them.

But where can they go? As human beings they seek answers to the big questions about life, but what religion exists for the individuals who enjoy free thinking and constantly question the nature of the world around them?

By combining components of the philosophy of existentialism and the religion of humanism, existential humanism offers a solution.  Existential humanism provides the dynamic means to obtaining satisfying answers about life, truth, infinity, and other big questions, which is missing from most traditional religions that remain static in a changing world.  Furthermore, existential humanism is about the individual, and not the religious organization.

To learn more about Existential Humanism go to www.existentialhumanism.com

 

 

 

 

 

Who You Are and What You Do

Who you are as an individual is so often not top of mind in day to day life. You need to be in the world to earn money to cover life’s expenses, and the occupation you perform defines you to the world around you.  You have been objectified, but chances are very good that you have also allowed that objectification to influence how you view yourself.  So much so that you may have even come to associate who you are with your occupation.  But what you do is simply a means to an end, it is not who you are.

Acceptance of being objectified starts early in life with virtually every parent quite innocently asking their children the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answers generally come back as an occupation such as a doctor or an astronaut, but that isn’t really the correct answer.  The correct answer to that question should be, “Me.”  The parent asked the wrong question.  Instead, what they should be asking is, “What do you want to do when you grow up?

Who you are is your authentic self, defined by you, but hidden from others in the world. You may not be consciously aware of it, but the products of your occupation are very likely tied to who you are.  After necessary expenses you tend to spend your disposable income on things that satisfy you or make you happy.  Since you derive benefits from the way you spend the money you earn, examining what those benefits are may help you to connect with your authentic self.  Once you break who you are away from what you do, you can set goals that will provide you with true satisfaction in your life.

Goals

Goals should not be considered in light of external things but in terms of the benefit that those things give you.  For instance, you may want to be (or already are) a lawyer. The benefit might be the intellectual challenge it provides or the satisfaction you gain through helping others.  Yes, there is the income to consider, but money itself is never a goal, it is simply the intermediary means of exchange between what you do and what you desire.  If you really think money should be a goal for you then look to the story of King Midas.

Drill down to find out what motivates you and what you really want in life. Think about lifestyle and how you would like to feel every day.   What does the money you earn do for you?  Perhaps it enables you to take a vacation, two weeks of bliss on the beach.  If while there you find you are truly happy and begin to dream of spending every day on the beach, you may have discovered a true goal for your authentic self.

Action Plan

Using the benefit of being happy by spending every day on the beach as your goal, for example, you can then develop a process to take you there. This is called an action plan is simply a series of sequential steps to follow.

You first identify how much money you would need to live on if you spent every day on the beach, and then determine how to earn it. Maybe being a lawyer is a good idea in this regard because it can bring in a lot of money, so being a lawyer becomes an action that will help you to achieve your goal.  The key here is that being a lawyer is no longer the goal, but simply a part of the process.  By staying focused on your goal you forgo frivolous purchases and willingly set aside the majority of the disposable income you make towards reaching it.

So you play the role of a lawyer, the world objectifies you as a lawyer, but you remain authentic by recognizing that this is what you need to do in order to be able to spend your life on the beach.  You feel wonderful every day knowing you are on the journey to the accomplishment of your goal.

What you do is not who you are.

Existential Humanism Explained

 

Existential humanism is about enriching an individual’s life by helping to make sense of the world.

Religions provide a sense of belonging, being a part of society as a whole. People often remain with the traditional religion they were raised in, partly so as not to be ostracized from the community they live in.  But there is currently a lot of questioning about traditional religions, the result of us now living in less homogenous societies and being bombarded with new information on an ongoing basis.  And for a growing number people the solutions that traditional religions offer are no longer sufficient for answering their questions about the world as it is today.  This conflict between long held beliefs and current information is resulting in people reaching out for different answers about the world they live in.

In this video I explain how the concept of existential humanism came about and give a short introduction as to what it may accomplish for those who might be seeking a new solution that better fits into the modern world.

By combining components of the philosophy of existentialism and the religion of humanism, existential humanism can provide satisfying answers about life, truth, infinity, and other big questions by providing for a dynamic which is missing from traditional religions.  For many people who have yet to find satisfying answers to their questions of life existential humanism may be the ideal solution: a dynamic religion for those who think and question.

This is not about being critical of any religion, an essential part of this approach is the equal recognition of all religions and the freedom of individuals to follow whatever path they wish.

I conclude this short video with my perspective on life:

Life is wonderful, live it, enjoy it, be a part of it, but don’t diminish it by attempting to give it a reason for existing

Relationships with Others without Frustration

While recognizing that relationships with other people are going to essentially produce conflict and frustration, we must also consider how they are nevertheless important to us. Certainly the strongest relationships come about where each participant wholeheartedly throws themselves into the relationship, but while doing it is still important to retain one’s own sense of self.  By allowing each other the freedom to pursue their own goals and interests, relationships can be of tremendous benefit to both parties and can actually add more meaning to our lives.

Unfortunately, people too often use relationships with others as an escape from the world. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the feeling of security may be comforting, but it can become a problem when people make the relationship the only source of meaning in their lives.  Instead, she advised people not to become so dependent on one another that they can’t exist without each other. Relationships are much more interesting, and stronger, if the participants also enjoy the diversity of their own independent goals.  In this way they are free to focus their energies on continuing to develop their authentic selves while also supporting each other’s goals, instead of holding each other down with petty power games.  Relationships can have so much more to them if the participants are both strong-willed individuals and good friends.

Unfortunately, there is a common theme in western culture around the idea of finding what is referred to as a soulmate; that somehow there are people in the world who were “made for each other” and destined to be together. Since individuals are free and must therefore define themselves (that existence precedes essence is key to existential thinking), there can obviously be no such things as soulmates.  Not only is this a useless romantic illusion, it is also dangerous.  de Beauvoir argued that a belief in soulmateship seduces lovers into turning away from their own authentic goals for the sake of the relationship.  Buying into the soulmate delusion is almost a guarantee of future frustration with the relationship.

Successful lovers are first and foremost individuals who take responsibility for creating their own lives and do not become reliant on a relationship with another person to be their meaning in life.  The best kind of relationship, one without frustration, is one where the participants respect each other’s freedom and support each other’s working towards whatever goals they choose, even if it means pursuing goals that may ultimately pull them in different directions.

A Working Model of Infinity

Do you have a working model of infinity that helps you to wrap your head around it? Humans currently have a pretty good handle about the way things work in our world, but those same truths do not necessarily apply to the rest of the universe.  Our thought process of sequential cause-and-effect scenarios tends to breaks down when we ponder the infinite.

It is important to recognize that we are finite beings living on a finite planet in our finite (measureable) universe, but the universe as a whole is infinite and infinity is something that is conceptually difficult for people to understand. Consider, we know that life appeared on earth about 3.7 billion years ago, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and our universe came into existence about 13.8 billion years ago.   The question of origin (creation) asks about what existed before our universe came into being and what is outside our known universe.  This thinking leads us to try to figure out the origin of everything; perhaps the hardest question that humanity currently wrestles with.

But by definition there is no origin to infinity, so this type of question doesn’t apply to anything outside our own universe. The big bang theory provides a useful conceptual framework to describe the origins of our particular universe and helps to predict what may happen to it in the future, but in order to develop a working understanding of infinity it is important to think of the big bang simply as a transition of part of it into something finite: measurable space and time. Humans require a conceptual framework, things like space, time, energy, fields, for reason to be able to function, but these things are irrelevant to infinity.

Yet even though the origin/creation question is a product of very human thought processes and therefore applicable only to things within our finite universe, we are still able to satisfy it in one of two ways. One can either avoid thinking by ascribing the answer to an unknowable god, as many people do, or one can develop a working understanding of infinity.  A person does not need to be an astrophysicist for the latter, just examine what it is that they do know.  Here is the working model which I came up with to reconcile infinity for myself:  the truth of infinity is that all is nothing is everything.

We know about matter and antimatter, and that when identical particles of matter and antimatter are brought together they annihilate each other and nothing remains. Far from being a science-fiction concept, we now not only know that antimatter exists but it is being used every day in modern medicine.  PET (positron emission tomography) uses positrons, which are anti-electrons, to produce high-resolution images of the body. Positron-emitting radioactive isotopes are attached to chemicals such as glucose that are used naturally by the body. These are then injected into the bloodstream where they are naturally broken down, and when these positrons meet electrons in the body they annihilate each other.  These annihilations produce gamma rays that are used to construct images.  Scientists are also studying antimatter as a potential way to treat cancer.

While we and our world/universe are made up of matter, we can also infer the existence of other finite universes that are made up of antimatter. If an identical matter and an antimatter universe were to collide there would be nothing left, but if they are not identical then the resultant destruction could be something akin to another big bang.  Depending on whether there was more matter or antimatter in that collision, then the result might be a new, finite, matter or an antimatter universe.  This is not inconsistent with current theory which acknowledges that the only reason our universe exists was that the big bang released more matter than antimatter.

Considering that infinity contains an infinite amount of matter and antimatter in equal quantities, that time only occurs in finite universes and does not exist in infinity, then infinity may exist simultaneously as both everything and nothing. Since this a logically derived theory based on what I know or can infer from what I know, it satisfies the definition of truth and works for me as a model of infinity.  This may not be in agreement with the theories of other people, but my point is to have a working theory which, through continued learning, may be subject to updates or changes.

Truth is A Transient Axiom

Truth about the world around us can quite easily be defined as the best explanation we have for a situation, that when we apply all of the knowledge available to us, cannot be logically refuted. Since new discoveries are adding to that pool of knowledge on a continual basis, we must accept that today’s truth will only hold until a better explanation comes along, and yesterday’s truth should already be considered suspect.

Truth is therefore both objective and transient, and it is through having an open mind and questioning everything that individuals are free to not only better understand the world they live in, but to also add to the collective knowledge of humanity.

Many people will attempt to make the case that truth is something subjective; stating that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. What they are referring to here, however, is not truth but belief.  Believing something to be true is, indeed, a subjective position, but it has little to do with what may actually be true.  Belief in something, especially when that belief is supported by a peer group, may be comforting to a person but it requires that person, that human being, to abdicate thinking.  Such behavior is risky because it may eventually atrophy that person’s ability to reason.

This brings us to a curious human dichotomy regarding the search for truth: while we have the innate drive to ask questions in order to seek out what is true, we also hold steadfastly onto what he have already accepted and seem unwilling to let it go, even in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise.  This is actually a good trait amongst scientists because it ensures that new truths must be well established by repetitive experiment and observation, a process known as scientific proof, before they gain acceptance.  A newly discovered truth is not something that is readily accepted and it must win the argument before rational minds permit it to displace the old thinking.  This process ensures that we don’t randomly flit from one ‘truth’ to another and only advance to the next truth when it has been sufficiently proven.  Certainly, if you examine the fields of mathematics and physics you’ll recognize some truths that have been with us for centuries, but how many more have been replaced in that time?  We have learned that the earth is neither flat nor is it the center of the universe, for example (although if you choose to believe such things that is entirely your choice).

Recognizing that truth necessarily goes through such an arduous process before being accepted by even the most rational minds, who have to override their internal resistance to something new, one can begin to understand why many of the old ‘truths’ not only still remain but are widely accepted in our societies. Within those societies the individual search for truth has been discouraged for millennia by authority figures who train its members from early childhood to repress that innate drive in favor of following the collective creed.

Truth about the world around us is, therefore, not subjective but highly objective, and the scientific method is a tool that provides us with the means to discovering it. In our world, truth is a transient axiom.

 

Freedom and Responsibility: How to Be Authentic

FREEDOM & AUTHENTICITY

Authenticity is the degree to which a person is true to themselves in spite of external pressures.  How to be authentic?  One must accept individual freedom and take authentic actions, choices which come about as the result of personal understanding.  Choices which are made in a manner which is consistent with a person’s true self, rather than merely acting from conformity according to the society in which that person lives.

Yet we are born within our respective societies and raised to accept the associated conventions, relationships, and in many cases the religions that characterize them. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger so aptly stated, “We are thrown into pre-made worlds.”  Our parents and teachers infuse us with what we need to know in order to get by in the societies that we live in and often pressure us into behaving according to this established norm.

But if we just blindly follow those rules and expectations, which in many cases means we would be acting inauthentically, then we may begin to suffer from stress as a result.  Choosing to behave based on who we are, however, results in our eliminating stress by being authentic.  It’s important, therefore, to define who we really are in order to be able to live an authentic life.  To achieve authenticity, an individual must accept their own freedom and create their own purpose.

FREEDOM & PURPOSE

The first step to being authentic is to recognize that as human beings we have no purpose other than what we create for ourselves. A major theme of existentialism is that every human is a free individual as explained by Jean-Paul Sartre:

“What does this mean? If one considers a manufactured object, say a book or a paper-knife, one sees that it has been made to serve a definite purpose. It has an essence, the sum of its purpose and qualities, which precedes its existence. The concept of man in the mind of God is comparable to the concept of paper-knife in the mind of the artisan.  My atheist existentialism is rather more coherent. It declares that God does not exist, yet there is still a being in whom existence precedes essence, a being which exists before being defined by any concept, and this being is man or, as Heidegger puts it, human reality. That means that man first exists, encounters himself and emerges in the world, to be defined afterwards.” Jean-Paul Sartre.

 

Since we arrive in the world having no predetermined purpose, it is up to us to determine what out lives will be all about.  That is freedom.

FREEDOM & RESPONSIBILITY

Human beings not only have the individual freedom to determine what our own lives will be, but we also have the responsibility to do so. Sartre summed it up by stating, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”  Freedom, then, is not only fundamental to being human, but as Erich Fromm so eloquently stated,  freedom is something that we must either embrace or escape from.  Fromm observed that embracing our freedom was healthy, whereas escaping from freedom was the root cause of psychological conflict.

The societies that we live in, however, tend to encourage escaping from the responsibility of freedom by promising a us feeling of comfort in return, and as a result many people do so.  A common escape from freedom can be obtained through conformity. By changing oneself to fit the perception of society’s preferred type of personality, one can displace the burden of choice from oneself to society.  To do this a person might tie their identity to an image which corresponds to some sort of social norm, such as becoming a dentist or a banker for example.  The person then acts according to the image they have of how a dentist or a banker should act.

Another means of escape is through authoritarianism; relinquishing control of oneself to another person, or in the case of some theist religions to a deity or supernatural being.  By submitting one’s freedom to someone or something else, individual freedom of choice can be removed almost entirely.

Human beings are free, but the responsibility resting on the individual to create ourselves and then be willing to act accordingly can be somewhat daunting.  Consequently, the above comfort mechanisms that society offers do tend to appeal to the majority.  But these people who do escape from freedom are denying their true selves in the process.  They may live exemplary lives, but studies have shown that over a third of them will lie on their deathbeds regretting that they had not followed their dreams or taken more risks with their lives.

Now this does not mean that all acting in accordance with social norms is necessarily inauthentic.  How to be authentic is about the attitude a person takes to their own freedom and responsibility, and the extent to which they act in accordance with that freedom.  It is quite reasonable that a person is able to behave within the norms of society and still remain a free, self-determined individual.