How Do We "Do" Humanism?

By Werner, Michael | The Humanist, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview

How Do We "Do" Humanism?


Werner, Michael, The Humanist


IT SEEMS we nontheists go by many names--.atheist, secularist, freethinker, humanist, secular humanist, rationalist, agnostic, and so on--as if these differences actually mean something. I've heard people imply that there is some sort of ideological difference between them, as if a label automatically locks one into a specific category. I find this curiously at odds with the inherent randomness of human behavior, and rather suspect these names are often used as a mere marketing tool.

Still, names do point toward certain proclivities; agnostics tend to temper their surety, rationalists focus on rational foundations for living, freethinkers tend to focus on the pernicious aspects of religion, and humanists embody the whole life stance that a naturalistic view demands.

The genius of humanism is that it is a blend of the best of both the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements, embracing both heart and mind, reason and compassion. It seeks to use all the human tools we have available for creating a secular life. I tend to call myself a humanist without any adjectives although I will and have in certain contexts called myself any of the aforementioned names. Generally though, I'd rather be known by what I believe than what I don't believe. I don't want to be measured by someone else's criteria, but by the positive humanist philosophy I aspire to and the life I lead.

We come to a nontheistic life stance in many ways. Many find humanism by observing the rational incoherence in religion. Many of us find the horrible historical results of religion to be unacceptable. Others are motivated by a youthful rebellion. Many black humanists and feminists say they found humanism as a result of their search for answers to oppression. Experientialists found the aesthetics of nature and our place in it as their motivating force. A fair number of so-called "come-outers" bring an early anger against religion that generally, but not always, matures to primarily dealing with how to live one's life as a humanist. Some of us were never religious to begin with.

The way I see it we exhibit all of the proclivities we see in the non-theistic movement at one time or another. We all have moments where we are more rational, and others where we are more emotional; moments where we are angry at religion and others where we are more tolerant; moments where we desire to be solitary and moments where want to be nurtured by our communities; moments where we like the ritual of celebrations, and moments where we are more skeptical.

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