Humanism II

A few weeks back I found myself in a heated debate with my friend Cody Sheldon. I was trying to make a case for why Kera Thrace of “Battlestar

A Battlestar (the Battlestar Galactica) from t...

A Battlestar (the Battlestar Galactica) from the re-imagined series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galactica,” despite having many of the same vices, is a better human than Gaius Baltar…because I’m a nerd. My argument hinged on the fact that Gaius’s own physical survival is the god of his idolatry. Kera, though a self-admitted ‘frack-up,’ at least attempts to serve something bigger than herself. Though anyone who has watched BSG knows the characters are about as morally complex as…well…actual people, I personally reserve a higher respect for all the characters—Commander Adama, Helo, Athena, even the blatantly racist President Laura Roslin—who do their best to ascend to their better nature by appealing to something bigger than themselves.

I admire those who strive to transcend the bestial for the angelic. To be clear, the bestial and angelic do not necessarily refer to moral character, but to the potential of a creature to positively and intentionally define their world and their place in it. The beast strives only to survive. It does not question the effects of its efforts upon others, its environment, or its own personal development. The beast is myopic, single-minded, and never questions whether it deserves to persist in the universe. The beast is not immoral, but amoral. The angel, however, is visionary, questioning, and (I think) humanitarian. The angel has no delusions about deserts, but takes an active role in creating the outcomes they desire for themselves, and others, without infringing upon the ability of others to do the same.

According to Pico della Mirandola (see previous post), humanity has access —both collectively and individually—to the full scope of being: we may degenerate into beasts or ascend to an angelic nature. In keeping with Pico I believe every person has moral capacity beyond the beast, thus, the man who degenerates (like Gaius) does not make amoral, but immoral decisions. Man does not invent the bestial when he allows himself to become solely focused on his own physical survival. Thus, I am dissatisfied with the idea that man invents the angelic when he seeks his better nature. The presence of the bestial inspires me to believe in something angelic.

My friend Geoffrey would rejoin that man came from beast and is not ascending, so much as he is evolving into the angel. This view of humanity intertwines physical, moral, and societal evolution. The combination seems natural, as a more developed brain equates to a greater capacity for self awareness and thus the ability to develop moral complexity. Unfortunately, my scientific ignorance disqualifies me from making an intelligent judgment on this point.

To me, a good person directs the energy of their desires towards unselfish ends. Whether they succeed marvelously (like Helo) or stumble along in their faith (like Starbuck), at least they are trying. And this is why some of the people I most deeply respect are atheists, agnostics, and capital ‘H’ Humanists: They care about people, and they want to live a life that blesses others.

“Do unto others…be a good person…it’s not that hard.” Those were the sentiments of my friend Ignacio, talking to mutual friends Bear and Celina about why “according to [his] religion,” they were “alright.” Bear and Celina were both raised in Christian homes, but individually came to identify themselves as atheists. Ignacio actively remains in the church. “You’re fine because you care about people,” Ignacio said. I couldn’t help but agree. The ‘Golden Rule’ of selfless love is at the heart of Jesus’ message and thus at the heart of Christianity.

This conclusion, however, leads me to two troubling questions: What, if anything, differentiates Jesus’ message of love and peace from that of any other humanitarian prophet? And if the keys to a moral society are within our collective grasp, what need have we of a savior?

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