Humanism as a Belief System

HumanismHumanism is a belief system that values reason, compassion, and hope. Emphasis is placed on human concerns and that which can contribute to human flourishing. Dogmas or creeds that in any way impede these foci are disregarded and humanity is thought to be... is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
Humanist ManifestoThe Humanist Manifestos are a series of statements which outline the core beliefs of the Humanist movement. The first, A Humanist Manifesto (1933) was primarily written by Raymond Bragg with 34 co-signers and published in the May/June 1933 issue of the Ne... III, 2003

The divine, in various forms, has played a central role in many cultures throughout human history. Human cultures across time have wondered how to find the divine, how to know the divine, and how to please divine. Humanists reject this focus. Placing human beings firmly in the center of their worldview, Humanists ask: “How, in this one life we have, might we make the most of our time here for ourselves and for others?” For Humanists, human concerns come first; they trump tradition, dogma, or creed. Humanists seek to discover what best promotes human flourishing while leaving behind those beliefs and practices that would prevent humanity from achieving its full potential.

This drive to improve human life can be expressed in three core values: reason, compassion, and hope. Humanists value reason, or the use of the intellect and practices like the sciences and philosophy, as the best way to generate accurate knowledge about the world we inhabit. They reject supernatural explanations for phenomena. They are driven by compassion, or the idea that all people—regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race, creed, sexual identity or other characteristic – are fundamentally of equal moral worth. Humanists also look to the future in hope, believing that human beings, if working together, can build a better world.

Many tributaries flow into the mainstream of Humanist thought, but two are particularly significant. Much of modern Humanism is inspired by the principles that animated the EnlightenmentEnlightenment means awakening to or realizing the true nature of reality. The term is used with various nuances in the Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions to express the spiritual awakening that is the goal of religious life. “The Enlightenment” also...: a commitment to reason as a mechanism to change society and a commitment to science as the best way of learning about the world. The journals, salons, debating societies, and learned academies of the Enlightenment paved the way for the “marketplace of ideas,” a concept that characterizes modern culture and that Humanists embrace wholeheartedly. The staunch rationalismRationalism is a philosophical tradition that understands reason to be the foundation for all knowledge. Empiricism, or the idea that all knowledge comes from sense experience, is key to rationalism. that pervades Humanism today is inspired by the spirit of these times. Humanists believe that people should be free to think and discuss any thought, regardless of the sacred truths that may be questioned by doing so.

The second major contributing influence comes from liberal religious movements, including liberal Christian and Jewish movements, TranscendentalismTranscendentalism was a movement of 19th century American thought, associated especially with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), and subsequent liberal and Romantic thinkers. Their vision was stretched toward universalism by a v..., and Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... UniversalismUniversalism is a belief in universal salvation, that is, that all people are eventually reconciled with God and united in heaven. Universalists began organizing as a denomination around this core belief in 1793. They merged with the Unitarians to form th.... Over time such movements have tended to significantly deemphasize the role of GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. and the supernatural, moving closer to a position of outright Humanism. In fact, many of the signatories of the first Humanist Manifesto were religious liberals who found that their questioning of God’sGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. role in the cosmos led them to Humanism. Humanistic Unitarian Universalist congregations continue to this day. It is largely from these religious traditions that the Humanist concern for the worth and dignity of all people is derived.

Like any ethical tradition, the full range of values and ideals central to Humanism is difficult to capture in a short statement. The task is made even more challenging in the case of Humanism because Humanism is non-dogmatic by design; there are no required “creeds” in which Humanists must believe, no holy book of Humanism that lays out what Humanists should or should not do. This is appropriate for a tradition which has no single founder, admits no ultimate authority, and believes that ethics is an ever-changing field of human practice which must alter to fit the context and the times. The closest Humanists come to creedal documents is a set of Humanist ManifestosThe Humanist Manifestos are a series of statements which outline the core beliefs of the Humanist movement. The first, A Humanist Manifesto (1933) was primarily written by Raymond Bragg with 34 co-signers and published in the May/June 1933 issue of the Ne... which seek to record a consensus view of what Humanists believe at a particular time, with the understanding that the answers given may need to be revised when circumstances change. Three such Manifestos have so far been written, each altering the last to respond to changed circumstances and new ideas, all evidence that Humanism does not stand still.

Humanism has a complex relationship with traditional religions. Humanism is not inherently “anti-religious” in the sense that it asserts all aspects of religious practice are by nature harmful and inhumane. At the same time, Humanism is not inherently “pro-religion” since it does not claim all elements of religious practice are positive and valuable either. Rather, Humanists seek to eliminate aspects of religious practice found to be inhumane and dehumanizing, while reconstituting those that affirm and promote human flourishing.

The willingness of Humanists to critique that which religious traditions consider sacred often puts Humanists at odds with religious communities that, in Humanists’ view, may continue certain practices for no good reason. While Humanists condemn dogma and irrationalism, they do not indiscriminately condemn all expressions of religious culture. Since Humanists see religions and religious practices as human-created, they seek to ensure that those religions that do exist do so to serve human ends rather than dictate them.

Some people consider Humanism to be a “religion”, while others do not. Generally the term “Humanism”, when used today without qualifier, references a nonreligiousMultivalent terms that often are used to describe people (or their worldview) who reject the practices, dogma, and creeds of established religious traditions. Some people, on the other hand, may identify as Humanist and also consider this either a belief ... life-stance, that is, a set of values, not how those values are expressed or practiced. Some distinguish between “Secular Humanism” and “Religious HumanismReligious humanism draws upon the rites and communal aspects of religion while maintaining secular values and a rejection of theism and the supernatural. Oasis, a growing community in Houston, Texas is one example of “atheist churches” in the United S....” “Religious Humanists” might express their Humanism in ways more common to traditionally religious individuals, for example meeting together to discuss values and celebrate certain ceremonies. Some like to maintain a connection to the cultural elements of a religious tradition they have experienced and may continue to participate in religious culture while maintaining strictly Humanist beliefs and values. “Religious Humanists” are still Humanists—they are atheists (or agnosticA person who believes that it is impossible to know whether or not a god exists. One can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist and the term is often seen to be seen as a kind of “middle ground between theism and atheism., skepticsSkeptics are people who question religion, religious tenets, or other truth claims. etc.), they are secularists, and they reject the supernatural. If there is a difference between “secular” and “religious” Humanists it is in how they express and practice their Humanist life-stance. The life-stance is the same in both cases.

Humanists seek inspiration from many sources. The boundless beauty of the cosmos filled Humanist scientist Carl SaganCarl Sagan (1934–1996) was an astronomer, astrophysicist, and author who played a leading role in establishing the American space program. His involvement with NASA spanned several decades, as did his teaching career at Cornell University where he serve... with reverential awe. Philosopher Bertrand Russell found the rigors of geometry “dazzling as first love”. Ernestine RoseErnestine Rose (1810-1892 CE) was an abolitionist and atheist feminist, the daughter of a Polish rabbi. At the age of sixteen she won a case against her father who insisted that she marry a man he chose for her; after the ruling, she left Poland and lived..., a social reformer and activist, found her bliss in her work to promote women’s suffrage and abolitionism. Margaret SangerMargaret Sanger (1879–1966) is widely regarded as the founder of the modern birth control movement. As a nurse and educator, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, founded Planned Parenthood, and was instrumental in the 1965 ... sought to change attitudes regarding reproductive rights, founding Planned Parenthood. And Gene RoddenberryEugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry (1921-1991 CE) was the creator of the immensely popular Star Trek, a franchise that includes seven television series and ten movies. Roddenberry, a Humanist, expressed through his life’s work a hopeful view of humani..., creator of Star Trek, expressed his Humanism with a hopeful vision of human life among the stars.

Wherever human beings reach out to better understand the universe and our role within it, wherever human concerns are placed above the will of a GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. or the needs of a tradition, wherever people believe that a better world is possible in this life, Humanism lives.


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