Is Humanism Right for You?

Humanism is a philosophy for those in love with life. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest.

Discovering Humanism was an important turning point in my voyage to atheism. If you’d like to understand why humanism is so appealing, both for myself and possibly for you, read on.

This is a web study about humanism, and I’ll be copy-pasting a lot of stuff here, but sorting through it and leaving some notes of my own as well. The majority of what has been written so far here was copy-pasted from the articles cited at the bottom. One of the most effective learning tools for me is to copy/paste, distill, and re-synthesize what was said so that I can internalize it and verbalize it to other later.

Modern Humanism – a philosophy that rejects the supernatural and relies on reason and science (includes both Secular Humanism = philosophy, and Religious Humanism = religion)
There is no difference between Secular and Religious. Only the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists disagree.

Cultural Humanism – from ancient Greece and Rome, developed throughout Europe

Religion, Serving personal and social needs:

  • Basis for moral values
  • Inspiring set of ideals
  • Methods for dealing with life’s harsh realities
  • Rationale for living life joyously
  • Overall sense of purpose.

How does it serve these needs?

  • Offer a sense of belonging
  • Moral education of children
  • Special holidays shared with like-minded people
  • Unique ceremonial life
  • Performance of ideologically consistent rites of passage (weddings, child welcomings, coming-of-age celebrations, memorials, and so forth)
  • Opportunity for affirmation of one’s philosophy of life
  • Historical context for one’s ideas.

Memorial Services; Don’t focus on saving souls, but serving the memory of the departed, for the survivors. Humanists don’t proselytize people on their death beds. People should die as they have lived, undisturbed by the agendas of others.

Criticisms of Religion

Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. The responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us.

Secular Humanists maintain that there is so much in religion deserving of criticism that the name of humanism should not be tainted by connection with it.

I distrust people who claim to know the whole truth. It’s a dangerous position, and they need to be challenged.

Prometheus

Greek mythology, Prometheus. (humanist themes are rarely found in the myths of other cultures.) Prometheus defied Zeus by stealing the fire of the gods and brought it down to earth. For this he was punished, and he continued his defiance amid his tortures. (humanist challenge to authority)

The next time we see a truly heroic Promethean character in mythology it is Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. But now he is the Devil. He is evil. Whoever would defy God must be wickedness personified. Greeks didn’t agree. Zeus, for all his power, could still be mistaken.

If there be a god, it is OK to disagree with him. Is something good because God ordains it, or does God ordain it because it is already good?

Political

Politically, the defiance of religious and secular authority has led to democracy, human rights, and the protection of the environment. Humanists make no apologies for this. Humanists twist no biblical doctrine to justify such actions. They recognize the Promethean defiance of their response and take pride in it.

Socrates

Ex. of major ideology’s sages: Judaism = Moses, Buddhism = Buddha, Christianity = Jesus, Islam = Mohammad, Mormonism = Joseph Smith. //// Skepticism’s best champion = Socrates.

Every one of these individuals claimed to know the absolute truth. //// Socrates claimed to know nothing.

Each devised a set of rules or laws. //// Socrates gave us a method—a method of questioning the rules of others, of cross-examination. The Socratic method.

Intellectual Freedom

Quote, “When I became convinced that the universe is natural, that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space. I was free—free to think, to express my thoughts—free to live my own ideal, free to live for myself and those I loved, free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination’s wings, free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope, free to judge and determine for myself . . . I was free! I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.”

both Religious and Secular Humanism place reason above faith, usually to the point of eschewing faith altogether.

Some adherents to Religious Humanism would even go so far as to suggest that it is a religion without “belief” of any kind—knowledge based on evidence being considered preferable.

Religious and Secular Humanism readily embrace:

  • modern science, democratic principles, human rights, and free inquiry.
  • Humanism’s rejection of the notions of sin and guilt, especially in relation to sexual ethics, puts it in harmony with contemporary sexology and sex education as well as aspects of humanistic psychology.
  • And humanism’s historic advocacy of the secular state makes it another voice in the defense of church-state separation.

All these features led to the old charge that people are teaching “the religion of secular humanism” in the public schools. (school courses identified as “humanist”: evolution, sex education, values education, global education, and even creative writing. There is no justification for seeing these ideas as the exclusive legacy of humanism.)

(What is this? There are Christian fundamentalists who would have us believe that “situation ethics” was invented by 1974 Humanist of the Year Joseph Fletcher. But situational considerations have been an element of Western jurisprudence for at least 2,000 years!)

The charge of humanist infiltration into the public schools seems to be the product of a confusion of Cultural Humanism and Religious Humanism. To do so would be to turn one’s back on a significant part of one’s culture and enthrone the standards of Christian fundamentalism as the arbiter of what is and is not religious. A deeper understanding of Western culture would go a long way in clarifying the issues surrounding the controversy over humanism in the public schools.

Humanism:

Knowledge

  • is a philosophy for people who think for themselves.
  • is a philosophy of reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge.
  • is a philosophy of imagination.

Compassion

  • is a philosophy of compassion. We want to meet human needs and answer human problems-for both the individual and society.
  • is a realistic philosophy. Moral dilemmas exist and they need careful consideration.
  • are committed to civil liberties, human rights, church-state separation, the extension of participatory democracy, and an open-ended approach to solving social problems, an approach that allows for the testing of new alternatives.

Anti-Superstition

  • does not have access to “transcendent knowledge”.
  • rejects arbitrary faith, authority, revelation, and altered states of consciousness.
  • recognizes that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, while not valid evidence of something, still remain useful sources of ideas.
  • is an encouragement for humans to comprehend reality.
  • is right here and now. We live for this life, not for the promise of life after death.

Humanism is a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest.

Sources

Image Source: chuddlesworth

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