Who are your heroes? What makes them heroes to you?
To stay with the theme of the board, my lifelong hero has to be Beethoven. By studying his Masses, and indeed all of his music I learned what an atheist can learn from God. Indeed his war with God, which in my opinion he won particularly in the Ninth Symphony taught me more about being human than anyone else. But in my mind the Missa Solemnis is the definitive comment on the relationship to man and God, God being defined as the Nicene God of the Anglican, Catholic, Eastern and Orthodox liturgy. Mahler followed in his footsteps and turned the path to humanism into a highway. But Mahler was not at war with God, he took Beethoven’s victory as a given and built on it, as did many others, too numerous to mention as heroes. Bach might be included in the pantheon, but it wasn’t until I had thoroughly studied his music and Masses that I realized that he too was on the humanist path, but so constrained by his employer, the Church, that he couldn’t be obvious about it. But it is no accident that he introduced the tritone (The devil’s interval) into music even, God forbid on the pain of death, to church music. Although in my view the tritone is an intensely human interval with its eternal questioning and questing.)
In literature, Steinbeck stands tallest in the God wrestling business. If there is a humanist bible East of Eden (1952) has to be near the top of the list. The interpretation of the verb timshel from Cain’s charge as “Thou mayest triumph over sin” is brilliant. Not you will. Not you can. Not you must. But you may choose to triumph over sin is profoundly humanist and taught me how to deal with the serious mistakes I made that I couldn’t nail to the cross like my religious friends. Most of the Science Fiction/fantasy authors following Asimov and Heinlein wrote some great humanist novels, with not so incidentally some of the best humanist moral discussions to be found anywhere, most are on my reread list when I need some moral support as a humanist. Niven-Pournelle, Card, Clark, Tall, Tolkein, the list is too long to remember them all. Omissions are memory failures not intentional.
Interestingly philosophers are not on my hero list, although their contribution to my life has been immense, if only by providing the challenge to my thinking to make it what it is today. A few of them were religious philosophers (theologians) and one Jesuit that made major contributions to my intellectual growth as an atheist.
I would agree with many of the scientist and mathematician heroes but they are not so much in the God wrestling business as in the advancing human knowledge business. Incredibly important in the mind part of the title, but not much in the religion part. Their quest is not religious but the intensely human desire to become omniscient, not by definition, but by hard work."