Humanism’s Tenets Cited
Humanism is “good without a God.” A humanist has been defined as a “free thinker and takes a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition.”
If you’ve rejected traditional religion, or were never religious to start, you may be asking, “Is that all there is?” It’s liberating to recognize that supernatural beings are human creations … that there are no such things as “spirit” or “transcendence”… that people are undersigned, unintended, and responsible for themselves.
But what’s next?
For many, mere atheism, the absence of belief in gods and the supernatural, or agnosticism, the view that such questions cannot be answered, aren’t enough.
Atheism and agnosticism are silent on larger questions of values and meaning. If meaning in life is not ordained from on high, what meanings can we work out among ourselves? If eternal life is an illusion, how can we make the most of our only lives? As social beings sharing a godless world, how should we coexist?
For the questions that remain unanswered after we’ve cleared our minds of gods and souls and spirits, many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers turn to humanism.
The philosophy or life stance of humanism embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making.
Humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions.
Fundamental to the concept of humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology — be it religious or political — must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Many humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism, or evolutionary ethics, and some advocate a science of morality.
Humanists hold that ethics is consequential, to be judged by results. This is in contrast to so-called command ethics, in which right and wrong are defined in advance and attributed to divine authority. Humanists believe “no God will save us; we must save ourselves.” Humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.
Historians are pretty much agreed on the general outlines of those mental attitudes and scholarly interests which are assembled under the rubric of humanism. The most fundamental point of agreement is that the humanist mentality stood at a point midway between medieval supernaturalism and the modern scientific and critical attitude. Medievalists see humanism as the terminal product of the Middle Ages. Modern historians are perhaps more apt to view humanism as the germinal period of modernism.
Perhaps the most we can assume is that the man of the Renaissance lived, as it were, between two worlds. The world of the medieval Christian matrix, in which the significance of every phenomenon was ultimately determined through uniform points of view, no longer existed for him. On the other hand, he had not yet found in a system of scientific concepts and social principles stability and security for his life. In other words, Renaissance man may indeed have found himself suspended between faith and reason.
As the grip of medieval supernaturalism began to diminish, secular and human interests became more prominent. The facts of individual experience in the here and now became more interesting than the shadowy afterlife. Reliance upon faith and God weakened. Chance gradually replaced Providence as the universal frame of reference. The present world became an end in itself instead of simply preparation of a world to come. Indeed, as the age of Renaissance humanism wore on, the distinction between this world (the City of Man) and the next (the City of God) tended to disappear.
Beauty was believed to afford at least some glimpse of a transcendental existence. This goes far to explain the humanist cult of beauty and makes plain that humanism was, above everything else, fundamentally an aesthetic movement. Human experience, man himself, tended to become the practical measure of all things. The ideal life was no longer a monastic escape from society, but a full participation in rich and varied human relationships.
Today, humanism is a joyous alternative to religions that believe in a supernatural god and life in a hereafter. Humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet. A belief that when people are free to think for themselves, using reason and knowledge as their tools, they are best able to solve this world’s problems. An appreciation of the art, literature, music and crafts that are our heritage from the past and of the creativity that, if nourished, can continuously enrich our lives.
Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy of 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 and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
My favorite definition of humanism is: “Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values-be they religious, ethical, social, or political-have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world union of more than 100 humanist, rationalist, irreligious, atheistic, bright, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries. The “Happy Human” is the official symbol of the IHEU as well as being regarded as a universally recognized symbol for those who call themselves humanists. Humanist organizations are found in all parts of the world. Those who call themselves Humanists are estimated to number between four and five million people worldwide.
I have written this piece, in part, with help from the internet.