Season on Origins – Social Origins

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 4 – Social Origins
This week we look at ourselves through a sociological lens. We seek to better understand society at large and to find our place within it, to see how our membership in various social groups informs our conception of who we are. We strive to be aware of the social forces which influence us and to engage with them in a way which promotes human flourishing. We acquaint ourselves with the social issues of the day and figure out how to relate to them.

Our social origins encompass everything about how large groups interact, including cultural identity, social psychology, politics, the “culture wars,” issues of social justice, and more. This year we focus our observance on social justice in general and in particular on issues of race. We examine how our race and the race of others around us have a huge influence on everyday life.

Felix Adler, the founder of Ethical Culture, wrote that

The next great task of humanity is to develop the morality of groups, and to this task all who are interested in human progress must devote themselves. It is only this which can guarantee in the long future an enduring peace, a disarmament which shall not be followed by rearmament, namely a change of heart among the peoples, a new attitude on their part towards one another, a feeling of what may be called, not international justice, but international love… The outlook on a humanity thus conceived is the vision which cheers us beyond the dubious prospect of the immediate future, a vision that one day we hope will be enshrined in the humanity which actually exists, in working for which we find our consolation, and in the midst of all that is discouraging, our invincible inspiration.” [Adler, Felix. Our Part in This World. Ed. Horace L. Friess. Bloomington, IN: Authors Choice, 1946. 40-41. Print.]

In the wake of the horrible events in Ferguson, Missouri and other similar events throughout the country, we turn our attention to race and the part it plays in our lives and the lives of others. Atheists have historically not been good at dealing with social justice issues, though many are fighting very hard to change that. Indeed, Humanists have been among some of the most ardent supporters of the Ferguson community and the struggle for racial justice across the country. We need to be mindful both of our failures and our successes as a community, but above all we need to recognize that these issues are not about us. Religion has nothing to do with racial profiling or the miscarriage of criminal justice. We need to fully engage with race as a human issue for the sake of making everyone’s lives better.

● Read Brian Barry’s Why Social Justice Matters. It is a persuasive book which really delves into what social justice requires.

● Read this very interesting four-part op-ed in the New York Times about the disadvantages of being black in America and about white blindness to this inequality – Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

● Check out the folks over at They have a wealth of short articles and videos detailing how to interact successfully with police officers.

● Read Do Unto Otters, a fun children’s book about interacting with people who are different than you are. It is a great conversation starter with your kids.

● Read this excellent blog post explaining white privilege with a very helpful metaphor.

● Read another excellent article about the representation of Native Americans in museums. It is a thought-provoking and even-handed look at… looking, and what that looking means for the people whose culture is being looked at.

● Check out this photography project which seeks to combat racial stereotypes by depicting attractive Asian men (with lots of pictures).

● Read this blog post from Skepchick stressing the need for Humanists to be involved in seeking racial justice, with some suggestions at the end for how to do that.

● Check out this article with more great, concrete ways you can help the people of Ferguson and beyond.

● Donate to Harlem Children’s Zone, an organization with an innovative model for breaking the cycle of poverty and violence in the predominantly black New York City neighborhood of Harlem.

Comment below with your ideas for how to observe this week!

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