Welcome to the Church of Humanism Blog
Here, as often as possible, church members will comment on relevant topics of the day. You are all welcome to join in on the conversation by emailing your thoughts and opinions to the email address shown below. We look forward to hearing from you.
These are unprecedented times, as we face huge global challenges! For One, climate change is leading to temperature rises in the most unlikely of places. “Antarctica logs highest temperature on record of 18.3C”1 (article title). That is an astonishing 69.4o Fahrenheit. We have seen wildfires (brush fires) in many parts of the world: not only Australia and in the US (California) but also in unusual places like Spain. These fires have caused immeasurable damage to humans and animals alike. “More than 1 billion animals have been killed so far, says Christopher Dickman, an ecologist at the University of Sydney.”3 To know that an estimated one billion animals have perished and that some of them may go extinct is incomprehensible.
Secondly, in the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of more autocrats who are violating human rights throughout the world. It’s good to hear that these autocrats are facing resistance. “Large crowds in Budapest protested Orban’s moves to shut Central European University, an academic bastion of liberal inquiry and thought. Tens of thousands of Poles repeatedly took to the streets to defend their courts from the ruling party’s attempts to undermine their independence. People across the United States and dozens of companies protested Trump’s forcible separation of immigrant children from their parents.”4 I’m hope that we continue to raise our voices in opposition to autocrats. Human Rights Watch notes the following examples of recent human rights violations committed by autocrats:
- “Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi persisted in silencing independent voices and civic groups and locking up thousands for their presumed political views.
- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte encouraged more summary executions, supposedly of drug suspects, but often of people guilty of no more than being poor young men.
- Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban implemented his brand of “illiberal democracy.”
- Poland’s de facto ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński, sought to stack his country’s courts with his preferred judges, undermining the judiciary’s independence.
- Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, closed ports to refugees and migrants, scuttled efforts to save migrants’ lives at sea, and stoked anti-immigrant sentiment.
- India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to halt the demonizing of Muslims while attacking civic groups that criticized his rights record or environmental policies.
- The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, tightened his grip on power by holding sham elections from which the opposition party was banned.
- US President Donald Trump disparaged immigrants and minorities and tried to bully judges and journalists whom he deemed to stand in his way.
- Russia under President Vladimir Putin continued its multi-year crackdown on independent voices and political opposition.
- China closed off any possibility of organized opposition to the increasingly one-man rule of Xi Jinping.”4
Third, of course, is the current novel coronavirus pandemic. The entire population of earth is impacted. As of the morning of april 1st, there are “873,767 confirmed cases of the virus and 43,288 deaths.”5 Nations throughout the world are (some more aggressive that others) are implementing isolation and social distancing practices to reduce the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm their healthcare systems and to minimize the number of deaths.
These are trying times for sure! We need to stay healthy in both body and mind if we hope to get through these challenges. First and foremost, we need to stay calm; stay informed and avoid false information. We can’t let our own personal beliefs stand in the way in overcoming these real crises’ facing us all. Pay attention to the medical profession regarding the coronavirus and to the scientific community regarding the impact the climate crisis is having on earth’s inhabitants. Furthermore, we need to stand up to leaders that don’t have their people’s best interest in mind. Our politicians must stop playing partisan politics, be honest with their constituents, and stop pandering to special interests in order to ensure that current and future generations can thrive and be safe. All businesses must work to advance prosperity and good will for all not just for a few. Big Pharma, here in the United States, must not take advantage of people by looking at this pandemic with $ eyes (see Big Pharma article reference 6). The fossil-fuel industry must stop the harm they are causing for the sake of profits (see fossil fuel article reference 7).
I know that many of us are afraid, but we must all understand that we are in this together. We must drop our partisan behavior and come together. We must resist those who continue to demonstrate divisive behavior by falsely asserting that the events we are facing are hoaxes. We will overcome these existential threats by helping each other and by fighting the urge to consider only one’s self-interest.
Again, let’s stay aware, commit to resisting and overcoming these huge threats and to communicating clearly and honestly with each other. I welcome everyone’s feedback. E-mail me at
- Antarctica logs highest temperature on record of 18.3C by BBC February 7 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51420681
- European heatwave: Spain battles major Catalonia wildfire by BBC June 19, 2019 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48790242
- Australian fires have incinerated the habitats of up to 100 threatened species. By John Pickrell, ScienceNews January 13, 2020 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/australian-fires-incinerated-habitats-threatened-species-ecological-disaster
- World’s Autocrats Face Rising Resistance by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/keynote/autocrats-face-rising-resistance
- Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
- Big Pharma prepares to profit from the coronavirus by Sharon Lerner, The Intercept March 13, 2020. https://theintercept.com/2020/03/13/big-pharma-drug-pricing-coronavirus-profits/
- Oil Companies Ponder Climate Change, but Profits Still Rule. New York Times, By Stanley Reed, October 7th, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/07/business/energy-environment/oil-companies-climate-change-profits.html
Happy Birthday, Joe
In just a few weeks (March 22nd to be exact) Joseph Ben-David, founder and minister of the Church of Humanism, will be celebrating his 100th birthday. I want to take this opportunity to wish Joe a very Happy Birthday and to celebrate his long productive life. Also, I invite you all to take this time to celebrate with me and to also wish Joe a very Happy Birthday. You can either go here or use the comment note below.
I first met Joe in the late 70s when I answered an advertisement in the Village Voice (now defunct) weekly newspaper. It was a “hip” periodical in New York City at the time. I attended one of the Church of Humanism’s social events based on the announcement in this paper. At that time, I was a naive idealistic young adult, quite lost, looking for something more of life. At these social events I felt welcome and I realized that something very important was happening here. This was the time when the human potential movement was in full swing. Joe was the moderator of these social events and he was warm and friendly, and he had a way of understanding you and what you were going through. I quickly learned that there was more to these events and, as the facilitator, there was more to Joe. It wasn’t just about socializing with others; it was about understanding how one relates to others and with oneself. The overall focus was to live a healthier life (mentally and spiritually).
Through the decades, I attended and participated in many of these social events. I consider myself fortunate to know and work with Joe and with the church throughout these many years. I am honored to say I consider Joe a friend and life mentor. I am proud to say that his guidance and wisdom have helped me to become the man I am today. Joe has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a compassionate and caring person. To listen and respect others and not to give in to false narratives and false gods like the ones revered by today’s major religions. To see god as ideal reality and to work towards that possibility. That is what god means to me.
Through his work as reverend and moderator of the church Joe introduced me and others to many innovative thinkers and scholars. I don’t think I would have come to know much about them and their ideas, had I not met Joe and had I not participated in the various church activities. Among these thinkers and scholars are Martin Buber, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rodgers, Wilhelm Reich, Karen Horney, Albert Schweitzer, Giordano Bruno, John Dewey and Hannah Arendt. I’ve learned to become a more authentic human being and a humanist by actively participating in many church events and by reading the many works I was introduced to. As I’ve grown, I like to think I know myself more; I understand better what god means to me and I’m more capable of serving god.
I recall one memorable lecture series I attended in the early 90’s at the All Souls Unitarian church. Spanning several weeks, it focused on Vaclav Havel’s peaceful strategy of “Living in Truth”, and the main point was, are we true to ourselves? Are we listening to our core or are we living life like automatons? In addition to attending lectures, I also spent many Fridays (took the day off from work) cooking with Joe for the Church of Humanism’s weekly soup kitchen. While cooking a hearty soup, Joe and I spent hours talking about life and what it means to serve god.
Joe has had a significant impact on my life. However, we often don’t consider how difficult it must be for him to live a life of sacrifice and to give his undivided (1 on 1) attention to others. Joe is a tireless worker promoting what he believes. His passion and his ability to persevere in the face of difficulties and challenges is remarkable. He is always optimistic that we are making progress, regardless of how small the work that move us forward seems. And of course, he is always there for you, listening with compassion and understanding. I see Joe as someone who is strong in character yet gentle when he relates to others. I see him standing up to his detractors and supportive to those in need. Joe has dedicated his life to lifting the human spirit in all of us.
Joe thank you for having such a positive impact in my life. Once again, Happy Birthday, Joe on your 100th, and may you have many more birthdays in your future.
Beware of Monopolistic Technology Companies
Recently I finished reading Move Fast and Break Things by Jonathan Taplin, published by Little, Brown and Company. The author’s main argument is that a limited number of technology companies are destroying our democracy because they have gotten too large and because they are controlling what we read, watch, listen to as entertainment and what we purchase over the internet. Mr. Taplin also posits that the founders and leaders of these technology companies believe they can do anything they want until they are told they can’t. This belief, that they can do anything comes from the passage in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead where Howard Roark, the main character, responds to a question, as quoted by Mr. Taplin:
“My dear fellow, who will let you? That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”.1 (p. 72)
It’s no surprise that many technology leaders and their monopolistic companies are admirers of the works of Ayn Rand and the economist Milton Friedman. They, according to Mr. Taplin, are libertarians who also believe “that the supremacy of the free market is the natural order of things”1 (p. 74). They posit “that government is usually wrong and the market is always right”1 (p. 17). Peter Thiel a board member of Facebook and the founder of PayPal, wrote in his manifesto on the Cato Institute’s website:
“We are in a deadly race between politics and technology … the fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”1 (p. 75)
During Gary Johnson’s 2012 libertarian Party presidential campaign, Jeff Bezos the founder and CEO of Amazon, in an interview for the Academy of Achievement said:
“I think people should carefully reread the first part of the declaration of independence. Because I think sometimes, we as a society start to get confused and think that we have a right to happiness, but if you read the declaration of independence it talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nobody has a right to happiness. You should have a right to pursue it and I think the core of that is liberty.”1 (p. 78)
The monopolistic technology companies Mr. Taplin highlights are Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Their primary business objective is to collect data and sell advertisements. There were two laws enacted during Bill Clinton’s administration that are major contributors to this do-anything they-want mindset. These laws are ITFA (Internet Tax Freedom Act) and DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
ITFA: “The law bars federal, state and local governments from taxing Internet access and from imposing discriminatory Internet-only taxes such as bit taxes, bandwidth taxes, and email taxes. It also bars multiple taxes on electronic commerce.”2
Mr. Taplin says this ITFA law helped Amazon wipe out the local bookstores and record stores in America.
DMCA: “It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM). It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.”3
Mr. Taplin says this DMCA law has protected online service providers from copyright infringement prosecution.
What hits home the point of this monopolistic thinking are the views of technology leader Peter Thiel, a driving force in Silicon Valley. Mr. Taplin references the article “The libertarian logic of Peter Thiel” in the publication WIRED published December 27, 2017 which states;
“monopoly businesses like Google, Facebook, and Amazon serve as a welcome replacement for government. Freed from the unrelenting competition of the market, these businesses can afford to have enlightened values, like investing in the future or treating their employees well. They can actually think about society as a whole. Google, he writes, represents a kind of business that’s successful enough to take ethics seriously without jeopardizing its own existence. … Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better.
Under this theory of benevolent monopolies, government regulations and laws are unnecessary. Taxes are in effect replaced by monopoly profits—everyone pays their share to Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal. And in contrast to the government, these profits are allocated intelligently into research and services by brilliant, incorruptible tech leaders instead of being squandered by foolish, charismatic politicians.”4
“Shared social responsibility is not part of the libertarian creed… the reason Mr. Thiel was drawn to Donald Trump’s authoritarian candidacy was that he would discipline what Thiel calls ‘the unthinking demos’: the democratic public that constrains capitalism.”1 (p.25)
So why should we care? These monopolistic technology companies have after all given society the means to communicate more easily; they have made more information available at our fingertips; and they have made it more convenient to buy anything we want without leaving our homes. Is this a good enough reason to allow these companies to continue in their present form? Mr. Taplin says, “We continue to surrender more of our private lives believing in the myth of convenience bequeathed to us by benign corporations.”1 (p. 12) These corporations have “an insatiable appetite for our most personal data in order to drive us to consume during our every waking moment.”1 (p. 156) And, “in some ways social networks are powerful engines of conformity.”1 (p. 156)
As I stated earlier, these major monopolistic technology companies are in the business of collecting data and selling advertisements. Are we okay with giving our lives over to these companies? Mr. Taplin says, “Google stores your complete search history, your location history, your purchase data, your demographic profile, your calendar, and your contacts”1 (p.256). Why are we letting this happen?
So, what is the impact to us? According to Mr. Taplin the original purpose of the internet was “to decentralize its control and deepen our knowledge base”.1 (p. 47) Has this been accomplished? I was struck by the following references Mr. Taplin presented. The first is from lecture by the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman given at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts:
“People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives every week being fed entertainment in the form of movies, TV shows, newspapers, YouTube videos, and the Internet. And it's ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn't alter our brains.
It's also equally ludicrous to believe that - at the very least - this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they're being fed mass-produced garbage. The packaging is colorful and loud, but it's produced in the same factories that make Pop-Tarts and iPads by people sitting around thinking, "What can we do to get people to buy more of these?"
And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this; corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.” 1 (p. 243-244)
The second reference is a comparison of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This comparison was taken from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”1 (p.244-245)
I don’t think there is any question that we are all affected by today’s technological tools. It’s unavoidable, we all utilize these tools. The internet and its underlying algorithms and search engines are the core tools used for research, communication, entertainment and for buying things. We don’t, however, give much thought to the impact these tools are having on us and who is controlling them.
I hope the above gives you some food for thought. I’m not suggesting we stop using these powerful tools. They have made (are making) a revolutionary difference in our lives. I am merely pointing out the downside of these new technologies, and I’m questioning the altruistic attitudes of the companies, their leaders and founders. I strongly encourage you all to consider what I’ve presented here and utilize these tools with eyes wide open.
I welcome everyone’s feedback. You can E-mail me at
- Move Fast and Break Things. Jonathan Taplin. Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2017. Author Jonathan Taplin.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Tax_Freedom_Act. Wikipedia, 1998.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act. Wikipedia, 1998.
- https://www.wired.com/story/the-libertarian-logic-of-peter-thiel/?utm_source=onsite-share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=onsite-share&utm_brand=wired. Noam Cohen, published on December 27th 2017.
Happy New Year
My 2020 Hopes and Wishes:
Be less divisive, engage in more dialog with others;
Engage in more social activism i.e., fight poverty and homelessness, support human rights;
Think more for yourself and strive for self-growth;
Rise against Judeo-Christian chauvinism, male chauvinism, sexism, racism, etc.
Support governments that:
Tackle the climate crisis in a real way, no lip service;
Pass comprehensive gun laws that make us safer;
Implement healthcare systems that protect everyone, especially from catastrophic illnesses;
Have flourishing democracies, i.e., primarily those that listen to their citizens.
I welcome everyone’s feedback. E-mail me at
I would like to weigh in with my two cents on this very important issue. I want to first state that I believe everyone has the right to healthcare coverage. And, I also believe we all must support one another in times of need. Obviously, providing healthcare coverage is one of those instances when we need to be there for each other. With this said let me dive into this healthcare debate.
The debate is about what is the best approach to providing healthcare coverage. Some of the questions being addressed are, how many Americans can a healthcare system cover? Should a healthcare system include a private option? What is the cost? This debate is framed as a choice, i.e., selecting private plans or public plans; staying the course or reforming the current Affordable Car Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare; etc. The debate’s primary focus is on costs for the various reforms/ plans. The way I see it, the debaters are saying they are seeking the best plan to protect Americans, but really, they are looking for the least costly solution possible while keeping insurance companies viable. When you look under the covers of the public plans being proposed private insurance companies will still have a role to play. For example, “Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, would offer a Medicare-like public plan for sale alongside private plans on the insurance exchanges now available under the Affordable Care Act. These buy-in reforms would minimize the need for new taxes, since most enrollees would be charged premiums. But tens of millions would remain uninsured or with coverage so skimpy, they still couldn’t afford care. “1
Many of my blog references below focus on various options and reforms that are being considered by our politicians. I invite you to review that information. There is a lot of detail. The common thread, the primary focus, through all these options and reforms is cost to implement healthcare. Secondarily these references present the impact to those that would or wouldn’t be insured. I think this is the wrong approach to an honest healthcare debate. The debate must first and foremost address providing healthcare coverage to everyone. As I’ve already stated healthcare should be a right. Healthy Americans, stress free Americans will strengthen our country. All of us will be more productive and freer. We would no longer need to worry about how to pay for our health issues. Instead we could focus our attention on improving our spiritual, emotional and financial wellbeing. All the discussions our politicians are engaging in about the pros and cons of one option over another just confuses everyone and keeps the status quo. It doesn’t help to advance health and wellbeing. It is not a healthcare debate! Politicians presenting a dizzying array of healthcare options including improvements to the ACA along with taxpayer costs isn’t helpful. We need to ask ourselves are these politicians looking out for us, or the healthcare industry as a whole?
To advance this healthcare debate in a more productive way our politicians need to focus on the positive aspects of a healthcare system. One that puts patient care first, not costs. There are many intelligent people in our country that can work out the details on how to implement a healthcare system that covers everyone. Endlessly debating these details merely confuses the issue and keeps existing practices in place. I am certain when we are confronted with the option of being healthy or sick no one is going to ask what is it going to cost me. The immediate preference is to be healthy. Why then, as a nation, must we debate this same choice by adding a cost factor.
I welcome everyone’s feedback. E-mail me at
1.The ‘Public Option’ on Health Care Is a Poison Pill https://www.thenation.com/article/insurance-health-care-medicare/ By David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler October, 2019.
2. Comparing Health Insurance Reform Options: From “Building on ACA” to Single Payer https://www.commonwealthfund.org/sites/default/files/2019-10/Blumberg_comparing_reform_options_building_ACA_single_payer_db.pdf by Linda J. Blumberg, John Holahan, Matthew Buettgens, Anuj Gangopadhyaya, Bowen Garrett, Adele Shartzer, Michael Simpson, Robin Wang, Melissa M. Favreault, and Diane Arnos. October, 2019
3. From Incremental to Comprehensive Health Reform: How Various Reform Options Compare in Coverage and Costs https://www.urban.org/research/publication/incremental-comprehensive-health-reform-how-various-reform-options-compare-coverage-and-costs by Linda J. Blumberg, John Holahan, Matthew Buettgens, Anuj Gangopadhyaya, Bowen Garrett, Adele Shartzer, Michael Simpson, Robin Wang, Melissa M. Favreault, and Diane Arnos. October, 2019
4. Public Option Health Insurance Pros and Cons https://www.verywellhealth.com/public-option-health-insurance-pros-and-cons-2615248 by Trisha Torrey July 16 2019
5. The Case for the Public Option over Medicare for All https://hbr.org/2019/10/the-case-for-the-public-option-over-medicare-for-all by Regina Herzlinger and Richard Boxer October 10, 2019
6. The Difference Between a ‘public Option’ and ‘Medicare for All’? Let’s define Our Terms https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/19/upshot/medicare-for-all-health-terms-sanders.html by Margot Sanger-Katz February 19, 2019
7. Roadmaps for Democratic and Republican Health Reform Platforms for 2020 https://tcf.org/content/commentary/roadmaps-democratic-republican-health-reform-platforms-2020/?agreed=1 by Jeanne Lambrew, contributorNovember 16 2019
8. Single-payer vs. public option: Comparing cost, coverage https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/single-payer-vs-public-option-comparing-cost-coverage.html by Emily Rappleye October 21, 2019