Obama’s remarks at Hiroshima

I heartily agree with this passage from President Obama’s remarks at Hiroshima last week.

Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness. And yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.

Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos. But those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.

The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

Though I intensely dislike the clang-y and self-satisfied sound of the word ‘humanism,’ I find it difficult to understand how any sentient adult can take offense at the pragmatic humanism of Obama’s observation.

John Dewey was thinking along similar lines when in 1920, surveying the mechanized carnage of World War I, he delivered a series of lectures subsequently re-published as Reconstruction in Philosophy.

To the vested interests, maintenance of belief in the transcendence of space and time, and hence the derogation of what is ‘merely’ human, is an indispensable prerequisite of their retention of an authority which in practice is translated into power to regulate human affairs throughout — from top to bottom.

And …

The issue actually raised by the assault upon the new science and its offspring by wholesale condemnation of human nature, and by the plea to reinstate in full measure the authority of antique medieval institutions, is simply whether we are to move forward in a direction made possible by these new resources or whether the latter are so inherently untrustworthy that we must being them under control by subjection to an authority claiming to be extra-human and extra-natural — as far as the import of ‘natural’ is determined by scientific inquiry.

Likewise, Dewey added this in A Common Faith, published about a decade later:

There are two points involved. One of them is that there is nothing left worth preserving in the notion of unseen powers, controlling human destiny to which obedience, reverence and worship are due.

Almost 100-years later, it is clear that Dewey was prescient: From the grotesque indecencies of religious strife in the Middle East, to the nihilistic vandalism embraced by evangelicals rooting for Donald Trump, Abraham’s god is plainly an engine of human misery, a bar to technological- and moral progress, and needs to be discarded. He has nothing to offer an educated, decent-minded adult.

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