When I mention the word Humanism, I am usually met with a blank stare (or the digital equivalent). On occasion I am “informed” that I worship humans, though I have not yet been accused of eating them, thankfully. Come to think of it, since my departure from organized religion I’ve heard that I worship a lot of strange things…the sun, Baal, myself. Adoration of a supernatural entity is so central to theists that it must be hard for them to imagine a life of joy, love, and altruism without some sort of god in the middle of it all. In fairness, I dwell in a space where the God-line is blurred, where peaceful, reverent awe of the universe and its intricacies suspends me in what may best be labelled scientific pantheism (a topic I’ll cover later this month.)
Though Humanism dates back to the middle ages and has grown into a movement of millions worldwide, it is not yet a household word, and the concept remains mysterious to many. What exactly is Humanism (not to be confused with cannibalism!) and what do Humanists believe?
I discovered this quote that elucidates the core of the movement. It is, “the general love of humanity … which we will venture to call ‘Humanism’, for the time has come to create a word for such a beautiful and necessary thing” (Anonymous, 1765, France)
Drawing from the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 and the Humanist Manifesto III, here is a list of Humanist beliefs and values that I have pocket-sized for your convenience. Now you can learn all about Humanism in the time it takes you to drink that Bulletproof coffee, or break down the boxes from yesterday’s Amazon delivery, or put on three pairs of pants (that’s you, my Wisconsin friends), or meander mindlessly through Instagram on your second device. (I won’t be offended. I promise.)
- Humanists believe in science and reason as an ever-evolving way to understand life and renounce making life choices or laws based on religious doctrines.
- They affirm that technology should be used for the betterment of our global society, and not to harm.
- They describe visual and performing arts, creative thought, imagination and music as vessels through which life can be enjoyed and its history preserved.
- Humanists believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all individuals and are strongly motivated to protect and defend human rights and the fair and ethical treatment of all people.
- They acknowledge that personal freedom bears social responsibility, both to those alive now and to future generations.
- Humanists believe we are born of nature and return to nature at death. It is a moral duty to use our brief time wisely, filling it with love, awe, wonder, and meaning. As our lives are finite, each person should strive to live purposefully and grace Earth with a positive impact that will live on after our deaths.
- Socializing, forming relationships, sharing in times of wealth and helping in times of need are values that add happiness and meaning to life.
- There is joy in building a global society that benefits all. Humanists strive to reduce the suffering caused by inequity and to distribute the wealth of nature justly, so that all humans can achieve the maximum fulfilment of life on Earth.
- Humanism offers an alternative to religion, providing community and a secular-based approach to altruism and self-improvement.
- In a nutshell, Humanists advocate for social justice, diversity, civil liberties, sustainability, responsible and ethical behavior, arts and creative thought, and the deep appreciation for the circle of life, all outside of the confines of religion. Their slogan is, “Good without a god.”
Am I a Humanist in the truest sense? I certainly agree with the principals of Humanism and am proud to be part of the movement (in a way I never was of my participation in organized religion). I broadcast the term whenever possible, to raise awareness and empower this nonreligious group, especially to populations that shamefully still equate atheism with malevolence or amorality. But the American Humanist Association claims to “work tirelessly in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend civil liberties, secular governance, and scientific integrity.” Therefore, I may not be worthy of the title.
My blog encourages communication between theists and nonbelievers, with an underlying goal of defending the marginalized and supporting human rights in arenas where religion is fighting them. In the photo above, I am singing at an event to raise money for the homeless. In those small ways, I guess you could say I am an activist. I admire those who are out picketing and marching, relentlessly writing letters and calling senators, even covering their car with political bumper stickers. (My Prius is graced with only one, a white dove that spells the word “Peace.”) Then again, it may not be necessary to become a revolutionary to invoke social change. Even quiet voices will resonate if enough of us are speaking.
If enough of us are speaking, society will hear us…even if it is not listening.
Stay tuned next weekend for an exploration of Humanism as it relates to Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. Until then, I’ll leave you with this quote from Matthew Healy, of the group “The 1975.” It speaks a simple but profound truth:
The one responsibility I believe I have is to stand up against ideas that promote inequality.