The Season on Origins
During these six weeks, we remind ourselves who we are by examining the contexts in which we are – our cosmic, biological, historical, social, communal, and individual contexts. We look at ourselves through different lenses and at different scales. We see the world we inhabit as the natural scientist sees it, as the social scientist sees it, and as we as individuals see it. We find our place everywhere, from the vastness of the universe to our own living rooms.
Week 3 – Historical Origins
This week we look at ourselves through a historical lens and attempt to see ourselves as the historian sees us. We seek to both better understand the arc of history itself and to find our place within it, to see how our history informs our conception of who we are. We gain new tools for approaching our current circumstances and are inspired to move boldly forward, writing our own page in the history books.
This year we focus our observance on human history as a whole, remembering to engage with history where and when we find it, and on Humanist history in particular, including the growth of science and freethought.
“Memory… makes us human. History, our collective memory, carefully codified and critically revised, makes us social, sharing ideas and ideals with others”
“The way things are descends from the way they were yesterday and the day before that. But in fact, institutions that govern a great deal of our everyday behavior took shape hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Having been preserved and altered across the generations to our own time, they are sure to continue into the future… Only an acquaintance with the entire human adventure on earth allows us to understand these dimensions of contemporary reality” [McNeill, William H. “Why Study History? (1985).” American Historical Association. American Historical Association, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/archives/why-study-history-%281985%29>.]
History helps us understand the world we live in and solve its problems. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the world and we forget that we are not alone in facing it. The world is not as new and foreign as we might think, and most of the challenges we face have been faced many times before. History is a vast testing ground of approaches to life and solutions to perennial problems. What expert better understands the human condition than the historian?
History also inspires us. It connects us with something larger and grander than ourselves. Who can help but feel their suffering ennobled by the presence of so many co-sufferers throughout the ages? Who can help but feel their joys magnified by the presence of so many who have glimpsed the same vision of what life can be?
We Humanists should be mindful of our history. Though much is new and shiny in the world of organized Humanism, we in fact have a long and storied tradition. Understanding that tradition is essential to understanding the choices we face as a community today. And after acquainting oneself with the history of freethought, who can help but want to contribute to that march of progress?
● Watch the third episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – “When Knowledge Conquered Fear.” In this installment, Dr. Tyson discusses the origins and progression of science from early pattern recognition to the mathematical precision and rigor of today.
● Read Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. It details the history of secularism (and anti-secularism) in America from the founding fathers to the George W. Bush presidency. It is a compelling look at the Humanist movement and its influence on America at large.
● Listen to the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast. It has a wealth of information on a variety of historical topics, all compellingly told. There is something for everyone, including resources for the inquisitive to follow up on in the show notes.
● Read Quicksilver, the first book in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. It’s entertaining historical fiction about reason, politics, and the birth of modern science from the author of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon.
● Watch “Drunk History.” In this show, people drink a lot and attempt to retell historical stories which are then acted out by famous comedic actors. It is very funny, though you might not want to share it with your kids.
● Inspired by what Humanists have accomplished? Want to be a part of building our future? Get involved at the political level with the Secular Coalition for America. Their website has a wealth of information on current congressional bills, contacting your representative, and more.
Comment below with your ideas for how to observe this week!