It occurs to me that far too often we define ourselves by what we are not. The old “A/not A” problem. If I tell you what I am not (not A), then you will know what I am (A). Unfortunately, the world doesn’t operate under an infinite number of dichotomous relationships. The opposite of Republican, believe it or not, is not Democrat. The opposite of Christian is not atheist. The opposite of dictatorship is not democracy. There are incredibly complex systems at work that define who and what we are.
In particular, atheism does not provide a comprehensive description of who I am. It simply proves an individual descriptor of one category I do not fall into: religious belief. I have read the writings of many atheists and agnostics, and know several personally. What strikes me is that there may be common threads, but we are not all the same.
And so, it is in this effort to not simply describe myself by what I am not that I want to take some time and talk about those individuals who have helped to shape me as a person, my “Heroes of Humanity,” if you will. These are the individuals whose stories and ideas have helped to shape me as a person. Many of them are atheists, some of them are not. Some are devout Christians. Some are liberals and some are conservatives. Some are American and some are Burmese. Some are alive now and some are long gone. Men and women, philosophers and psychologists, dictators and activists.
So who first? What individual should be the first to receive my praise? I’m going to go with John Wesley. For those of you who do not know, Wesley was the eighteenth century founder of the Methodist movement. He was a zealous Christian who is accredited with a great impact on English society. It is perhaps odd, then, that I recognize him as having a profound impact on the course of my life, eh? Though I disagree with many of his conclusions (and hypothesize that perhaps had he been born two hundred years later that many of them would be different), I value many of his principles, and resonate with many of his characteristics.