Humanism is the belief that our principles are built on the basis of ethics and philosophy derived from the human mind. They are not based or sanctioned by a divine power, or aided by the supernatural. When considering whether these principles and our actions are good or bad, a crucial concept is empathy with the rest of humanity. The concern when living with humanist principles is leading a good life as a human being, and being concerned with things as they are rather than as we wish them to be.
Thus what it is to be human, the rights that we should have and give to each other, are central themes to be considered, and the results of humanist thinkers will differ by ideology, philosophy and politics. Reason and logic are thus important qualities in rationalising our differences, science is crucial in understanding how things are, with human creativity and innovation something to be encouraged. Therefore the autonomy and liberty of a person are recognised.
Open discussion and free inquiry are not a sign that morality is necessarily relative, or up for grabs. It is a recognition that human thought evolves, and moves with the moral zeitgeist. Pluralism, dialogue, freedom of expression, speech and thought are thus important for humanism for exactly that reason of improving human thought and the human experience.
The Amsterdam Declaration 2002 of the International Humanist and Ethical Union described it as these fundamental points:
Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.
Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
So can a religious person be a humanist?
The way people cherry pick from the bible would suggest that humanist thinking does have a role for people that would identify themselves as being religious. Besides people might say that no one could be 100% certain anything we know came from a divine source. So a further consideration would be are sacred texts, or religious leaders infallible in their reasoning? If you answer yes then you are not a humanist.
When told that something is against god’s will, but going against it would improve human welfare which should hold sway? If the later than you are in the humanist camp.
Some people are agnostic about a moral law giving god, think religion is man made, but have never come across the term humanist. They therefore describe themselves as spiritual because they are concerned about ethics and into the sublime. Here a belief in the supernatural would be the key distinction between such people being a humanist and someone that was spiritual and thought the supernatural happens in everyday life.
Humanism is not a religion, because there is no central law giver, nor an anointed human representative with unique insight into humanistic thought. The supernatural is rejected as a basis for moral action, and no text is sacrosanct. There are no rituals which must be performed, or one conclusion to be reached regarding moral philosophical thought.
Humanism is a positive affirmation that human thought can be used to the betterment of humankind. That however does not mean that progress is certain, or that all must agree to one common view. Only that by means of creating a society that is open to ideas, free to debate them, and has the faculties and abilities to develop and evaluate them we can aim to improve the human condition for all.
Related Blog: What is Secularism?
Graphic taken from here.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog