S. Doré Mead: Feb 2, 1948–Jan 18, 2022

On October 30, we went for a 25-mile bike ride in one of our favorite places, Elm Creek Preserve. We used our standard procedure: I hold the bike while Doré climbs onto the stoker’s seat, she arranges the pedals, and away we go. She walked into the restaurant for lunch using only her folding bicycle cane.

She got her diagnosis on November 16 and confirmed by a bronchoscopy on November 17. There was mercifully little physical pain but in six weeks, she would be unable to get in and out of bed without assistance.

Doré was a secular humanist, although not bound up in any manifestoes and she certainly did not evangelize that view. For her, it was simple: we know quite a lot about the natural world, through the experience of living and the evidence of science. We know nothing about the supernatural; what we think we know is theology, folklore, mythology, superstition, and “on faith”.

The United States of America is not founded on Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Shinto, or any other set of religious principles. It is founded on the “humanist” principles from the “Age of Enlightenment”. Humanist principles align quite well with Christianity, and all the World’s major religions, save the mythology. We are a “Christian” country in the sense that the founders were Christian. Following that reasoning to the limit, the United States is a Protestant, male, Anglo-Saxon, antisemitic, xenophobic, homophobic, slave-owning country.

Some “Social Darwinists” might argue in support of some of those phobias that this is a dog-eat-dog world and it’s us against them. But society advances, i.e., becomes more civilized as it enlarges its concept of us. Ultimately, us must mean all Homo sapiens and we share the planet, not divide it. Doré’s us was very large.

Much of the language in our ‘Foundational Documents’, i.e., the Federalist Papers, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution, is a paraphrasing of 17th century ‘Enlightenment’ writings. For example, Jefferson’s quintessential phrase “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” looks a lot like Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and Estate”. Jefferson probably didn’t make the change because he thought the terms were synonymous but that his flowed better. He probably believed, as Doré and many of us do, that there is more to life than property.

In Locke’s and Jefferson’s phrases, ‘life’ can be interpreted narrowly as prohibiting homicide, as most religions do more or less, plus cruel and unusual punishment, capital punishment, and wars, although that is not as narrow as most religions or governments. In the phrase, “more to life”, it means the entire experience of being alive. Maybe that is what Jefferson had in mind.

Governments are secular and temporal. They are designed by “men” to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. They deal with this natural world, not any supernatural one. They have nothing to do with nor say about God, Satan, deities, angels, spirits, demons, morality, or anything pre- or post-life.

The Founding Fathers disagreed strongly on many things, e.g., state’s rights, monetary policy, and, of course, slavery, but agreed strongly on two large humanist, and in the 17th Century revolutionary, ideals: the rights of the individual and the separation of church and state. Many of them had experienced what happens without those guarantees. They were not so enlightened (woke) that the rights of the individual extended equally to women, Jews, Catholics, slaves, Asians, or gays. It is legitimate to study, discuss, debate, question, and criticize some aspects of the lives of, say, Jefferson and Washington. But one should also ask, “What would they do now and what would I do then?”

Morality is equally simple: Am I helping or hurting? What if everyone, in this situation, did what I am doing? Will I regret my actions, or inactions, later?

Do not question nor try to infer the motives of others. Assume the best; you might be surprised. Prepare for the worst; you could be disappointed. Give me the courage to challenge the things I cannot accept.

It is about making the experience of this life better, not about building up credits to ensure good seating in some other one.

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