By Herb Bowie
I suffered a crisis of faith a few years ago: a crisis of faith in my atheism.
My prior loss of faith had come much earlier. One Sunday, when I was still a young child, I had opened a kitchen cupboard and discovered therein the indisputable evidence: a cardboard box which had originally held the large chocolate egg found in my Easter basket that morning. Instantly I realized, with penetrating insight, that the basket had not come from some mysterious bunny, but from my very own parents. And if they had lied to me about the bunny, why should I believe these odd stories of theirs about God?
And so began a protracted phase in which I happily referred to myself as an atheist.
A few years ago, though, I began to have doubts. Not about the existence of some omnipotent, omniscient supernatural being – I was still pretty sure that neither the Easter Bunny nor God were real, in that sense. No, this crisis of faith was a deeper one – about whether it was at all sufficient to identify myself primarily with a system of thought based entirely on disbelief.
Now, of course, somewhere along the way I had considered calling myself a humanist rather than an atheist. And that felt more accurate – whatever belief I had been able to muster over the years had been in other human beings, not in god or church. And yet, ultimately, humanism felt incomplete as well. Partially because, no matter where I turned, I found a different authority offering some new explanation of what they meant by the term. But also because, whenever I tried to explain humanism to someone else, they would stare blankly at me for a while and then, when I had finished my semi-coherent ramblings, would say, “Eh, so you’re an atheist, then?”
And so, bereft of any belief system I could claim for myself, I began to cobble together one of my own.
I began with a sense of mission based on the idea that we humans could work together to forge a brighter future for ourselves. And yet I didn’t want to imply that I believed in any simplistic notion of some ideal future state. Rather, I wanted to encourage small practical steps towards gradual betterment. And so I came up with the phrase “Practical Utopian,” shortened by contraction to “Practopian.”
I decided to avoid all usage of the words “God,” “religion” and “spirituality,” primarily because these terms have been used by so many different people to mean so many different things that they have become confusing rather than enlightening. So on these topics I simply said that I believed in the value of the written word, but did not deem any particular text to be sacred and irrefutable.
Like any good humanist, it was easy to state that I believed in science, in evolution, in education, in toolmaking, and in the use of critical thinking. To these I added a belief in the value of systems thinking, since so much of modern life is influenced by vast and complex social, political, economic and ecological systems.
At the same time, I found I believed in the value of human society, in the need for governance, and in the institutions of democracy, including the rule of law, as well as a mix of private and public ownership of property. I also affirmed a belief in the value of parenthood, as an essential element of any human society. And to these societal elements I added a belief in the good of creating value for ourselves and others.
I readily expressed an appreciation for the power of human storytelling, and for all the different ways in which we use the many forms of art to communicate with one another.
But then, in something of a deviation from traditional humanism, instead of simply seeing the culmination of human history as a liberation from superstition into science and rationality, I affirmed a belief in the value of human culture, and the ongoing evolution of that culture.
I also found that I believed in balance, rather than any form of fundamentalism or extremism. I believe that, despite our various imperfections, we all hold some important pieces of the truth, and that by integrating our different perspectives, we can arrive at a more complete understanding of any problem or situation.
And so, by the time I was done, I discovered that I had, not one thing that I failed to believe in, but twenty-six things that I did believe in.
I then proceeded to separate these twenty-six beliefs into one Mission, thirteen Principles, and twelve Values. And then, for each, came up with a brief and basic formulation of my thoughts: in most cases, just a single sentence.
So this is how I came to call myself a Practopian, and to define what I mean by that.
However, this term, and these beliefs, are not reserved for my personal use.
I encourage you to explore the website Practopians.org at your convenience. There you’ll find everything I’ve described today, plus more. I’ve assembled many of my favorite quotations, and organized them around these core beliefs. I’ve also added additional writings, supporting and elaborating on many of these beliefs, and using them as a starting point for commentary on current affairs and works by others.
I hope you find all of this enlightening and useful. And I even dare to hope that some of you might also come to call yourself Practopians one day. I’m always interested in meeting like-minded folks, and welcome comments and contributions from others.
Published 2018 Sep 15