One of the greatest powers of religion is its capacity to uplift people, to grab hold of something deep in the core of humanity and raise it high, as a beacon we can all follow. At their best, religions have an extraordinary capacity to craft stories and symbols which offer a vision of an improved humanity. They light us up.
I want Humanism to be inspiring in the same way. But too often we Humanists stick to philosophizing and facts, forgetting that human beings are mythic creatures, shapers of stories and shaped by them. Poet Arthur O’Shaugnessy understood this, writing in his poem Ode:
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
If Humanism is ever going to become a replacement for religion, providing nonreligious people with a similar sense of inspiration and direction, then we Humanists must embrace the mythic part of our humanity: we must make music and dream dreams.
But dreaming is difficult. Inventing, out of whole cloth, new symbols and narratives which capture the rich complexities of the Humanist worldview is an enormous challenge. There’s a reason why most new religions fail, and why most attempts to express Humanism seem thin and feeble: myth-making and symbol-shaping is a creative exercise requiring nuance, judgment, thoughtfulness, and a spark of genius.
Two weeks ago, such a spark was kindled. The Yale Humanist Community – “a nonprofit organization that is open to everyone and supports an ethical, compassionate approach to life” – launched a fundraising campaign to support the Green Light Project, a Humanist addition to the religious holiday symbols displayed every year on the Green in New Haven, CT.
It’s glorious. The centerpiece is an interactive sculpture of metal and light, shaped like a lighthouse or an obelisk, which reacts to the presence of people around it: as people draw near the light warms and grows until, when surrounded by enough people, it pulses in a heartbeat. Around the sides of the sculpture are inscribed inspirational messages about the importance of community, and inside it lives a time capsule to be opened in 2138, capturing wisdom from the people of the early 2000’s.
I’m inspired by that video in a way I haven’t ever been inspired by a Humanist project before. It speaks to me in the way Cosmos and Star Trek speak to me: in the language of art and story, beauty and wonder. It makes me excited to be a Humanist, and it makes me yearn to see more positive public expressions of Humanist values. If funded, the Green Light Project will be a beacon not only to the New Haven Community but to the world, demonstrating that Humanists can create gorgeous, compelling artwork which brings forth the magic of our worldview.
Humanism can light us up.
The Green Light Project is one of the best things to happen in Humanism for years. It combines breathtaking artistic clarity with a profound understanding of Humanist values. It is beautiful, fun, and inviting. The fundraising project itself displays admirable attention to detail, which instills confidence that the project will be managed well, and donations used responsibly. And, most importantly, it needs your help. Please give generously to the Green Light Project.