By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Above and Beyond
Hey, whatever turns you inward
How do you wrestle with questions of mind, body and spirit? Mainstream religions have had thousands of years to make their pitch, but some people just don't buy it.
Not to worry. Unless there really is a heaven and hell, you've got just as good a chance as anyone else to achieve grace in this life or the next or the next. Here are just a few ways people are trying to get by.
For the Ethical Humanists, it's the thought that counts because there may or may not be Somebody Up There who likes them.
For some people in constant pain, help from above isn't as important as helping themselves with such tools as biofeedback.
For Spiritualists, voices from the past don't haunt, but heal.
Your mind, your body, your spirit. Use 'em or lose 'em.
Universal Soldiers Play Follow the Leader
by Bill Jensen
The Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island is where you go when you hold life sacred, want morality and crave a sense of community, but you just can't accept the fact that it actually rained for 40 days and 40 nights. That when you die you come back again. That Nothingness is the path to Enlightenment. That God really doesn't want you to eat pork.
The main room at the Garden City church is large and sparsely decorated. A podium stands in front of the stage before a semi-circle of plastic chairs. On a wall hangs an icon that looks like a hippie precursor to the Blair Witch symbol. The crowd on a Sunday is mostly older, white women. Some wear name tags. The before-service banter is typical church talkold people comparing ailments, wondering who will show up this morning.
Then the music starts. Classical new age is pumped out of speakers hoisted above the stage. Arthur Dobrin stands at the podium listening to the tune, looking out at the crowd, which is mumbling like a school class before the teacher arrives. When the music ceases, the mumbling begins to wane, winding down and down as more and more people look up to the podium and see that Dobrin is ready to talk. It's like church. Kinda.
Dobrin is not the president of the group. Nor is he a priest, pastor or reverend. The daily program lists him as "Leader." When his wife gives me his phone number the day after the service, she notes that the prefix is "G-O-D." Of course, everyone at Hofstra University, where Dobrin is a professor of humanities, has the same three-digit prefix.
He stands at the podium and begins with the shtick you usually hear at church. He greets everyone, comments on the weather, welcomes new members. After that, however, all notions of church-talk are gone. This is Ethical Humanism. God ain't here. And neither are his buddies.
Founded in 1876 by Felix Adler, the son of a rabbi, Ethical Humanism has traditionally attracted intellectual, socially active folks. The Long Island chapter, founded in 1950, has connections to the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the Working Families Party. There's a Sunday school for children that includes class units with titles like "Seeing Effects of Decisions" and "Earth Stewardship." On Friday nights, the brick and glass building on Old Country Road turns into the Our Times Coffeehouse, with folk singers and poets performing.
What do Ethical Humanists believe? It can pretty much be boiled down to the Golden Rule if you "do unto" the universe the same way you "do unto" others. Take away the cross, the angels, the epic stories, the winding historyall the juicy parts of Christianityand you get Ethical Humanism.
The rhetoric is all about respecting one another and the world. Life is to be embraced. Neighbors are to be loved. Every person is unique. Always be a student of the universe. These sentiments are peppered all over the pamphlets and small books hanging near the entrance of the building. To an outsider, it looks like a thousand different ways of saying the same thing.
"We are the prime example in the Western world of a non-theistic religion," says Dobrin, 58, of Westbury. Having grown up in a secular Jewish home in Brooklyn and Queens, Dobrin became attracted to the movement in Africa during a stint with the Peace Corps.
Like other religious people, the Ethical Humanists mark life's milestonesthey celebrate weddings, confirmations and funerals. And there is a religious feeling.
"I have a connection to that which is much larger than I am," says Dobrin, who has led the group since 1968. "In that respect, I am no different than the Hindus." Hinduism doesn't work for Dobrin because he has problems with the caste system.
But if you agree with the basic moral message of Christianitylove thy neighbor, give others shelterwouldn't you want to cover your bets? Why not just fake a little belief just in case you end up at the pearly gates shrugging your shoulders in front of a guy holding a big book?
"It never made sense," Dobrin says of the image of an old guy sitting in heaven controlling the world. "I look at the story of Job. The story is really awful. God is in a bet with the devil to break the human spirit. But Job says there are great mysteries in the universe. And who knows what will happen? I'll be part of the trees, part of the ground."