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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
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August 23 2009

Finally, the Humanist Can be Heard by All. You can finally watch or listen to the entirety of Joss Whedon's acceptance speech from back in April when he received the 2009 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.

Think that's "Humanity". And I adore that scene between Book and River. Talking about questioning ones faith...

Classic Joss.
Oh this is awesome! I am so thrilled to have the chance to watch the whole thing...
my favorite part was Joss' discussion of how his POV changed after having children.
I got the mp3, so I can hear it anywhere. It will be a permament part of my iPod
Awesome speech, easily up there with his Equality Now-speech.
WARNING! Spoils the BSG finale!

(Important for those of us a bit behind...)
All of a sudden, Joss is incredibly sexy! (OK, he was before, but even more so now!)
All of a sudden, Joss is incredibly sexy! (OK, he was before, but even more so now!)

I really cracked up at the "Call me!" sign he did there at the beginning. :)
Thank you so much for the link J linc - I really appreciated that! I laughed...I cried, so yes, total Joss!

Nebula1400 - yep, with you there. Total crush going on.

I loved the fact that Joss spoke about his fear of death, I know, slightly morbid thing to talk about amid all the inspirational stuff in there. It's something that I struggle with myself and to know that he has too makes me feel less of a freak about it!
WARNING! Spoils the BSG finale!

Erm. Not the one I watched. There's a "what did you think of the BSG finale" question, and then Joss' unspoilery answer.
Is the video downloadable somewhere?
Without God, all one could hope for is an ethical universe.
WARNING! Spoils the BSG finale!

but... he didn't use the spoiler thumbs...
I love that Joss points out that all the Humanist speeches are answered and answered well by people of faith.

I think that's one place where Joss has truly excelled in advancing humanism. Both acknowledging the biological need for "something" and then not turning it into a strawman argument of how religion is wrong.

The result is a message that always sounds like, "you believe what you believe through free thought, I'll believe what I believe and that's ok." Obviously he says it more eloquently, but it is why Whedon is more likely to be "heard" by more people of faith than Richard Dawkins.
Wow, I'd forgotten it ran so long. I'd buy this on DVD.
I had to watch it in two parts, because of my radio show duty, but before this, I was just an avid fan of Joss's. Now, I am truly in (platonic, non-threatening to his wife or family) love with the man. He espouses a life philosophy which is mine as well, and people like him are very rare.
This morning I waded my sad way through the Los Angeles Times, as I do every Sunday morning, and I didn't go to church, as I don't every Sunday morning.

And then I watched this video, and was edified, warmed and uplifted.

That's what I'm talking about.

Thank you, Joss.
Is the video downloadable somewhere?

For free on iTunes.
Anything known about the movie/comic project that ended up as parts in Dollhouse?
I was kind of wondering if that's a reference to Afterlife, which routinely comes up in Dollhouse discussions. But we've only ever known that as a screenplay.
I had the same thought, but I couldn't think of what would've been cannibalized from that. Certainly they have some similarities but that comment seemed to suggest something more specific getting reused. It's been awhile since I read it though.

ETA: Just recalled the scene in "Epitaph One" with the Rossum guy. Yeah I think he means that screenplay.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-08-24 02:21 ]
Along these lines, does anybody know if there's an archive of audio interviews with Joss? I'm trying to make a collection to listen to at the gym. Some people need music. I need writing-talk.
Oh b!X thanks for the iTunes link, I didn't know it was available there, and it is definitely something I want to save and listen to a couple more times (there was a lot in there).
I didn't know either. I went looking just to see.
Gosh Jobo, I can't think of any one site that archives all of Joss' interviews. It's all a pretty much hit and miss as you go sort of thing.

So happy that QuoterGal got to the church in time! Perhaps a few of us could follow suit?

My super-duper computer is just spitting out false leads as well. Silly machine!
Sorry... when I heard the question asked, I paused and fast forwarded about 5 minutes. =)
Both acknowledging the biological need for "something" and then not turning it into a strawman argument of how religion is wrong.

Pretty sure he thinks theistic religion is wrong (in the sense of being incorrect), he's said it several times with varying degrees of stridency. As to whether it's morally wrong, that surely depends on the religion and what it preaches. It's not a straw-man argument though because there actually are branches of religion that are dangerously extreme.

What it may be (and what you may mean azzers) is irrelevant because where Joss is spot on IMO is, people are people and we're good or bad (or maybe good and bad) largely regardless of our religion or stated world-view and that nobody profits from demonising the other "side". Where I think he's perhaps slightly naive is, there are points where religious belief and non-religious belief clash (particularly in his key building block of a humanist future, "education, education, education") and those clashes can't necessarily be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides by just living and letting live and accepting that we all have different beliefs and should just try to get along. If none of our beliefs dictated how we should act in the world that'd be fine, it wouldn't matter but unfortunately it's just not that simple.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-08-24 11:12 ]
An excellent speech - thanks to b!X for cluing me in to the iTunes availability. I'll show it off to my family when they awaken from their strange nocturnal rest (it's 3:35 here).

Saje, the potential to (un)wittingly make a straw man argument exists because there are dangerously extreme branches of religion, not in spite of them; this potential is actualized when one addresses the fundamentalists and the intolerant as though they represent the best of their religion, rather than the worst.
Hmm. No, I don't quite agree Mercenary. Moderates sometimes want to claim that extremists are somehow "doing it wrong" but the truth is, they're just interpreting the same book differently, moderation/extremism is a function of the people practising it, not the religion itself.

The reason I think Dawkins offends so many everyday, decent religious people (apart from his intolerant language) is that he's applying the same logical argument and extrapolation to religion as he does to e.g. science. Non-extremist religious people don't like to accept that the extremist position is also a perfectly valid (albeit different) interpretation of the same text they follow which is why when you accuse ALL religions (or all the Abrahamic religions at least) of being extremist it's claimed to be a straw-man. But it's not a straw-man if it's actually true of the religion's purported foundation (even if it's not true of the way most moderate believers practice it).

To him, it's there, in black and white in the holy books in question. I think to him, a moderate claiming that the extremist interpretation is entirely separate is a bit like a physicist claiming he believes all of physics except e.g. conservation of energy i.e. it's inconsistent - either you believe in the fundamentals of the field or you're not a physicist. That's also why, IMO, his view of religious people is simplistic and insulting but his arguments about religion are basically sound albeit delivered with a great deal of unnecessarily divisive antagonism.
Thanks for the itunes link b!X. I'm looking forward to watching this. But I guess it will have to wait until after I catch up on BSG just to be safe. If Joss mentions the BSG finale, knowledge of the finale probably helps to understand his point.
He really doesn't mention it or make any point based on it. Someone asks him what he thought and he says he can't really discuss it because of spoilers. He then elaborates (very) slightly and says he found some parts of it good and some parts less satisfying.
I haven't seen the finale and I didn't pick up any spoilery information whatsoever from him in this. Just his general attitude about the ending.
I think South Park said it best in Go God Go Part 1:

"Well, there could still be a God. Couldn't evolution be the answer to 'How' and not the answer to 'Why'?"

Personally, I'm not a particularly religious guy. My ability to function as a moderately happy individual does not require answers (or even questions, actually) to life's great mysteries. It's not my place to apply specific rules or labels to the existence or structure of the universe. Also, I guess I simply lack that biological need for "something". I'm a simple man, so my needs are generally as such. Food, shelter and love are pretty much all I "need", the rest are things I occasionally "want", such as a balloon, or a house cat, or a proper desk for my computer. :)

[ edited by kungfubear on 2009-08-24 21:39 ]
Saje, I believe I understand what you're saying. My claim was that where arguments against religion become straw-man fallacies is where they target and admit only those practicioners defined as extremist, since, by definition, such practitioners deviate the most from secular norms and are thus the easiest targets with which to paint religion in a negative light. I wasn't claiming that extremists don't 'properly' practice/represent their respective religions; rather, that to argue against their positions as though they represented the sum total of the religion is to be disingenuous.

As an atheist, I think we agree with one another by and large - the only reason I'm pursuing the topic is that I feel the main solution to resolving the majority of misunderstandings is to clarify the definitions and premises that underpin the positions of either side. In my experience most people mostly agree with one another, when it comes down to their essential morality.
The “evolution is god’s way of doing things” claim has been used for some time now by moderate Christians (and certainly some others) to reconcile their beliefs with modern science. I’m dragging Dawkins back into this thread because he has a succinct counterargument which says that injecting a god anywhere into the process of evolution only makes the god look redundant. If the whole thing functions just fine without a god then why in this case insert one? It’s the old ghost in the machine hokum all over again.

Someone also mentioned earlier that Joss is much better than Richard at getting the eyes/ears of people with faith. And while I must agree with that, it is also worth pointing out that those two are talking about two almost completely different things; Joss contemplates the human aspects of belief and Richard the factual ones.

The talk was a real treat anyway.

[ edited by hence on 2009-08-24 23:51 ]
I would REALLY like to hear what Joss' thoughts on the BSG finale were. I had pretty much the same reaction to it that he had, some things I loved (especially the character centric scenes) but plenty of things I felt almost betrayed by (generally the mythos centric scenes) and I'd really like to see if my thoughts meshed with his.
I feel rather the same as kungfubear who put everything quiet perfectly. I respect others and their need to believe in something larger than themselves but as far as I go I am perfectly content going through existence as a kind hearted being doing my best live my life and help the people around me out of love, not fulfillment to a deity.
Well, that's nice for you guys. Personally i've just always been interested in the world around me and where we fit into it (as a kid I was forever getting into trouble for taking my toys apart to see how they worked) so not asking questions would make me less contented. Everyone finds their own meaning though, when it comes to "How to live your life" there're 6.8 billion different answers. And counting ;).

I wasn't claiming that extremists don't 'properly' practice/represent their respective religions; rather, that to argue against their positions as though they represented the sum total of the religion is to be disingenuous.

Again, not really. The point is, they may not accurately represent the sum total of their religion's practitioners BUT they do accurately represent their religion. I.e. most extremist religion, certainly of the Abrahamic stripe, is (as you seem to agree Mercenary) precisely as true a representation of the religion as moderate religion is, it's just different. So in an argument against religion it's not a straw man, it's only when arguing against religious people that it is.

That may seem like semantic hair-splitting but when your problem is actually with the idea(s) of religion(s) and not most of the people practicing it then it's an important distinction.

If the whole thing functions just fine without a god then why in this case insert one?

Absolutely hence. But it's still true to say evolution neither proves nor disproves God, it "just" provides an alternative explanation for facts that at one time seemed exclusively within God's remit. Sometimes I think if more believers realised that there'd be fewer ridiculous situations like the Kansas school board thing from a few years back.

If as a believer the only God you have is a "god of the gaps [in our knowledge of the world]" then you're already pretty much screwed because the history of humanity (certainly the last 2-3000 years) has that gap closing constantly.

I had pretty much the same reaction to it that he had...

Yeah me too Djungelurban. Course, the bits he found satisfying/less so might well be totally different to the bits I did but it'd be really interesting to hear his take on it.
Saje, I hear a bit of dismissive condescension in those keystrokes. Please understand that not needing to ask questions about life does not mean never asking. I cannot speak for silent knight, but in my case, it is possible for me to be content with my existence and still be curious about it. One of my best friends is a Lutheran. We've had many deep, philosophical discussions about various religions and the idea of or belief in God.

Many people look to faith for comfort, to settle some kind of inner, existential crisis. I prefer to turn to friends and family, which I suppose could be speculated that I AM turning to God, in an abstract, non-specific way. Were I to subscribe to one, declarative religion, it would probably be Buddhism. I've always liked the "individual spirituality" of it.

At the same time, I'm not a Buddhist for other reasons which don't adhere to the way I live my life. I sample many different ideologies and prefer to live by bits and pieces of many, rather than just sticking to one, set religion. I'm the same with politics, which to me is very much just another word for religion.

Catholic or Protestant? Conservative or Liberal? I've always found it odd how a person can affiliate to just one. Some things I feel liberal about, some things I feel conservative about. I mean, what if you were forced to wear long pants every day? Sometimes, you'd want to wear shorts, right?

Or, a bath towel? :)
Saje, I hear a bit of dismissive condescension in those keystrokes. Please understand that not needing to ask questions about life does not mean never asking.

Well none was intended so I apologise if you read it that way kungfubear. When I read e.g. "My ability to function as a moderately happy individual does not require answers (or even questions, actually) to life's great mysteries." I guess I see it as someone that's happy without wondering about the big questions (whether you do or not is irrelevant, it's something you could stop doing and feel no loss whatsoever) which is genuinely fine. My response was absolutely sincere in that I wouldn't be happy without asking questions, for me it is a need in the sense that it's not something I can take or leave, it's a fundamental part of me. I'm not happy not knowing (or at least trying to figure it out).

(I also genuinely believe it's nice for you guys, you sound like you're more content than I am or probably ever will be)

ETA: That said, there is often with people who are content a sort of implication that if the rest of us just stopped running around worrying about stuff we could also be content i.e. as if contented people somehow have it figured out. Not saying that's your position (though the tone of your comments could be read that way) just wanted to point out that I don't agree with that at all, contentment is nice (so i'm told ;) but it's not necessarily what we should all be striving for IMO.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-08-25 11:21 ]
OMG, I just started to see the beginning, but I couldn't stop and watched the 90 minutes in one time. That was amazing, I haven't admired the man more than I do now, and I like the fact that he talked a lot about the flaws of "Dollhouse".
I see your point, Saje. Having a relatively Zen approach to one's existence in no way means total "enlightenment", as if to say that because of it, I or others like me are on some kind of higher plane, some evolved state of being, like an exclusive club with special rings that can also decode hidden, privileged secrets. :)

In fact, on a personal level, I am always fascinated by my own sense of being, trying to understand how and why I am this way. It didn't come from my upbringing, I know that much. It is through such curiosity, through conversing with people about who THEY are and their beliefs, I can better understand my own and gain a greater sense of the world around me.

But, I suppose you're right. To NOT know doesn't necessarily frustrate me. I figure, it will all make sense in the end, when I die. And, if it doesn't? Then what do I care? I'm dead at that point. :)
I guess i'll find out if i'm wrong, otherwise not so much. But yeah, that fact (of not only not knowing some things but of never knowing some things) has the potential to drive me banoonoos if I let it and to no gain at all really since I can't change it - usually i'm able to be philosophical, very occasionally it still burns. It's a work in progress ;).

(put it this way, there's an episode of 'House' where, inspired by a patient who'd had a near death experience, he sticks a blade in a power socket and electrocutes himself cos he wants to see what's beyond death. I like being alive too much to try something like that BUT it didn't seem quite as crazy to me as it might to other people ;)

It is through such curiosity, through conversing with people about who THEY are and their beliefs, I can better understand my own and gain a greater sense of the world around me.

Yep, couldn't agree more, well put.
kungfubear: Having a relatively Zen approach to one's existence in no way means total "enlightenment", as if to say that because of it, I or others like me are on some kind of higher plane, some evolved state of being, like an exclusive club with special rings that can also decode hidden, privileged secrets. :)

I got a ring and access to all the secrets of the universe.
Well, don't tell me anything, you'd totally spoil my frustration at not having any concrete answers (and just when it's really continuing to not pay dividends too).
Man, so close to having Joss answer one student's question about a theory I've had about The First Evil since Season 7 ended. The student asked if it was actually evil incarnate, or if it was merely the first demonic entity. But Joss only addressed part of the question, about it being a character/concept they would've explored further had the show continued (hmm, wonder if that means it might show up in Season 8 or 9--Amy's still around and she had a connection to it), which is interesting information as well, at least. But yeah, I think having the actual original source of evil, something Satan-like in the series, is kinda lame and far prefer The First Evil to just be an ancient demon (maybe the first, sure) with a gigantic ego.

Great speech and some good questions in there as well. Not in the mood to quibble with certain elements of Joss' stance at the moment, except to ask others the following:

If education is the key to humanity evolving (in a collective mental capacity) beyond its religion crutch, would it be immoral for, say, someone to become a teacher in the Catholic school system with one of the side goals (besides providing quality education) of attempting to influence one's students to think outside the box and maybe even actively push them away from what they have been brought up with/conditioned to believe ? Immoral to infiltrate, or worthwhile and commendable for undermining the status quo ?
I think teaching critical thinking in a school system is always laudable. There's precious little of it here in the US. But I also think that trying in subtle ways to teach people what to think, no matter what I personally think about the what isn't. I don't support entering a religious school to subvert the religious teachings any more than I support science teachers who refuse to teach evolution.
Yeah, I broadly agree with that. The "cleanest" way to do it is to be such a good teacher at another local school that your students get good marks and all the parents, regardless of belief, want to send theirs there. Critical thinking is always worth teaching though, in any subject (you can use it in English and history just as much as you can in science or religion).

(and if you're teaching science and you refuse to teach evolution then you're not a science teacher IMO, whatever it says on your name tag)
Cool, just wanted to get some feedback on that idea. Not planning on becoming a teacher (despite having that suggested to me many times, especially from my dad's side of the family--half of 'em are teachers). Although Saje,

The "cleanest" way to do it is to be such a good teacher at another local school that your students get good marks and all the parents, regardless of belief, want to send theirs there.

This sounds ideal, might win over a few parents, but in my experience with religious folks/parents, it's not realistic. They'll send their children to the education system of their faith, generally, because they want them to continue to be raised/influenced that way (also--grandparent pressure. Grandparent pressure can be huge. If my folks decided to switch gears with me and my sister come highschool--or also for elementary/grade school--my mom's mom and certain aunts and uncles would've flipped and my folks, being the non-confrontational types, would've caved). Try that with another nationality of devout relgious folks (let's say hardcore Italian Roman Catholics, instead of my three generations of Canadianized Irish/English/Scottish/Welsh family members) and you might be faced with an even stronger reaction. My mom has expressed to me that she was raised with the belief that she and her peers who went to Catholic school where somehow better than those in the Public education system (apparently simply by virtue of being Catholic or some other intangible, inexplicable quality--judging by my mother's apparent inability to explain the reason for this mindset). I saw that attitude less in my peers, if at all (though who knows what kind of parents they have grown into/will grow into, only kept in touch with one girl from school who's one of my best friends), which perhaps indicates that time and sense will errode/have erroded that mindset. Of the young Catholics I do know who are planning to put their children through the separate school system, they seem to want to do it more for the whole "like father, like son" mindset (plus pressure from family, sure), rather than a superiority complex.

I dunno, it would be sneaky and dishonest (but so is lying to children/teens and gently brainwashing them, though it's difficult to lay fault when the folks fibbing to the kids were raised with it themselves), but I wouldn't mind if a particularly brave, mischievous teacher decided to try it. Dismantling a dinosaur institution from within, in this scenario, wouldn't be criminal.

[ edited by Kris on 2009-08-26 19:32 ]

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