This I Believe is a simple podcast with a simple premise.
Referring to the website of their parent organization, they work to engage people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. I first encountered this podcast while listening to my other iPod mainstay NPR Tell Me More later finding that the series had its own feed to which I subscribed. Recently while partaking of one of these essays, I happened to find myself consumed by a spark of inspiration. I contemplated for a moment what sort of essay I might compose if I sat and thought about my core beliefs at length. An internal dialogue of this manner is running through my mind at all times and those who have found me lost on a tangent in conversation can attest to the matter. This was compounded by two converging streams of thought which fellow travelers in my life have sought to engage with me.
Amongst the members of the Black Free Thinkers Association of Chicago (BFTAC), I have been grappling with the terms on which we share our views on the varying forms of atheism, agnosticism, humanism and secularism with those in our immediate family and the larger community. This has culminated in a consistent and clear reframing of the notion of atheism as something concerned solely with what we have chosen not to believe. We instead concern ourselves with exploring the personal ethos that we use to make our life more meaningful. We have come to learn that socially we all have a strong belief in people, the power of community, human agency, and the ability to improve the conditions of our world through the ethical application of reason and logic. What differs is the methodology we choose to achieve those glowing intentions.
The other conversation occurred with my father on Memorial Day. We were having a dialogue regarding some of his students at the Chicago Westside Youth Technical Entrepreneurship Center (WYTEC). It was one of our typical discussions on how he might best motivate the youth to reach inside of themselves and access the talent and creativity available to them to enhance their lives and surrounding Westside neighborhood. During our conversation, he ducked away in the house and came out with a school textbook on African American Literature before launching into another dialogue on how few of the students stated that such a text was available to them in their place of education.
His closing statement was rounded out with the sentiment ‘I say this to you and I don’t mean just them. I am saying this to you as well. You have to believe in something larger than yourself.” Anecdotal evidence from my conversations with others has shown me that it is a common mistake when we arrive at this decision in life where we don’t advocate belief in God or varying supernatural strains that we believe in nothing. This is my first salvo in a simple attempt to reassert what has been expressed in my poetic works many times before. I hold a broad spectrum of beliefs in things which are larger and more vast than anything my ego could conceive, but all of those things serve only to draw me nearer to the deeper meaning of my humanity.
I believe in imagination. I believe that the creative capacity of the human being is both beautiful and limitless in its every manifestation. Jennifer Michael Hecht was interviewed on Point of Inquiry regarding her text “Doubt: A History” and made the point of stressing how important art and poetry are in the accessing certain aspects of the human psyche which science does not make readily available. This notion sparked a bit of debate within the forums that saw her stance as an attack on science, but I think we would find ourselves falling into the same pattern as religious fanatics if we never draw the conclusion that art in every form (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) operates in tandem with science to enable humanity to discover and explore new forms.
Consider the case of the Maker Movement, an entire social phenomena dedicated to re-envisioning items that we use in our everyday life into new tools, crafts, and means of engaging human curiosity. All humans have the capacity to be inventive, but we are perhaps all inventive in different ways. Some want to make simple machines and complex robots while others wish to explore biology and plant life. Some would differ still and be curious about soap making and how different scents affect the human senses. All of these things are forms of exploration which keep the flame of curiosity burning from smaller through progressively larger projects in order that the “maker” is able to recognize science in their immediate environment and the world at large. Students who were able to attend the recent Maker Faire often stated how they dislike science class, but they certainly love to make things. Science and art converge in the imagination to be expressed in a renewed interest in being a party to remaking the world.
In a recent conversation with my brother Kamau Rashid, we were discussing comic books in some capacity and stumbled over my present discovery of Steampunk. I remarked on how fascinated I had become with the attire while engaging with a photo on a Tumblr blog. He remarked being impressed by a recent comic with a black female in the lead which had a Steampunk edge drawn into it. This led to a further discussion of the importance of using creative insight from sources such as Steampunk in order to create a new means of approaching the world from the perspective of sustainability. Steampunk envisions a world powered by steam which exists before the preeminent form of fuel becomes petroleum. A fascinating arc for this discussion exists in the convergence that has occurred between some elements of the Maker Movement and Steampunk culture. Many of these have been simply design for the sake of enhancing the striking visual portrayal of the Victorian era fashion such as eye goggles, arm cannons and other handheld steam tools, but there are also members of the movement who are incorporating this ethos into architecture.
Imagination is a workshop where we might adapt to the conditions of a changing world and repurpose the tools we already have at our disposal. Let us examine religious practices in this construct. The hierarchy which humans have built to describe the relationship between them and “God” is nothing short of remarkable. Not any less remarkable than that which we now describe as Greek mythology which was also a God/Man hierarchy that involved participation in priesthoods and other forms that enabled man to feel that he was making his best effort to serve those supernatural forces which might improve his lot in life. The most interesting factor is that the invalidated social logic of the Greeks now serves as a form of classical literature and the basis for much of what we now term Western philosophy.
Towards the goal of using our understanding of the imagination to shape a contiguous future for African philosophy, I would delight in seeing those of us practicing African religions and deifying Kemet seek to remove ourselves from same religious tendencies that we tend to look backward and critique of those still studying Islam or Christianity. Let us instead recognize that we are no less caught up in the supernatural than they are and we all must pursue a similar evolution as was taken by those who once considered Greek mythology to be the highest form of earthly understanding they could perceive.
We must recognize texts such as the “Odu Ifa”, “Husia”, “Teachings of Ptahhotep”, or “Book of Coming Forth by Day” as not some new means for escaping our Western religious trappings, but great literature created in attempt to describe a human ethic for living. Literature that should not be above our application of a critical and discerning eye. Some of it is pure fallacy. There should be neither pain nor shame in stating that, but the honest approach that would allow us to find human solutions for human problems while still recognizing that there is some worth in the products of the human imagination which may have previously been created with a different objective in mind than we now apply to them.
I intended to elaborate on my belief in dance, communication, and human relationships in this entry, but I shall return later with an additional entry where I will express my views on those things.